Legal Issues with Accidents and Injuries at Home

If you become an accident victim in someone's home, then you may have an accident claim. Property owners have a general legal obligation to maintain safe conditions for people who come onto their property, but specific duties depend on state laws and the visitor's status.

Homeowner Liability for Guest Injuries

Guests, in a very broad sense, mean people who are invited onto one's property. However, the law divides this class of people into two different categories: licensees and invitees. Both may be owed similar duties of care, but their purposes for being on the property are different.

Licensees are people present for a non-commercial, non-business purpose. Friends are a common examples of licensees. Homeowners are liable to licensees for willful or wanton injury resulting from the homeowner's failure to exercise ordinary care to protect the licensee from dangerous acts or conditions.

Invitees are those present for a business or commercial purpose. They may be invited through express or implied invitation and may have a contractual relationship. A typical example is workmen hired to make repairs. Homeowners typically owe the highest duty of care to invitees and are required to inspect the premises for dangerous conditions. They also must warn invitees of hidden dangers.

Homeowners Insurance Claims

Homeowners insurance policies have coverage for liability with respect to injuries in the home, in order to provide redress to those who are injured on the property due to negligence. Since litigation is long and expensive, an injured party can pursue redress from the insurance company to get money for medical bills, lost wages and so on. Having insurance will allow homeowners to avoid direct involvement with the legal process as well as the costs and stress resulting from it. The insurance company will be in charge of the case and may get to make decisions on settlement, but the policyholder is the client.

Injuries to Uninvited Visitors

Uninvited visitors, or trespassers, are owed some duty of care under premises liability law. Trespassers are present without permission and for the trespasser's own interests. The only duties a homeowner owes to a trespasser is not setting traps or pitfalls to injure them, as well as not purposely injuring them. Front yards and driveways attached to the property are areas included within the sphere of property. Furthermore, if the owner is reasonably aware that trespassers may come onto the property or that trespassers are present, the owner has to exercise ordinary care to avoid injuring the trespasser.

Animal Injury Liability

Typically known as "dog bite laws," there is liability for animal injury. If the injury involves a wild animal, the owner will be strictly liable for any injuries it causes. Note that this standard only applies to wild animals kept by the owner as a pet, such as deer, bears, tigers, etc.

If the animal is a dog, the laws vary. Some states impose strict liability but offer exemptions for the following:

  • Trespassers
  • Veterinarians treating the dog
  • People who provoke the dog by hitting it or other actions

Some states have a "one bite" law, which states that you are not liable for your dog's first bite but will be liable for future bites. Others use the standards of negligence, which have to be proven by the injured party before the owner will be liable.

Getting Legal Help

It is a good idea to contact a licensed personal injury attorney in your state if you are involved in a household accident. The attorney can negotiate with the insurance company, inform you of local laws and help you assess your chances of success.

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