Premises Liability and Injury Laws for Homeowners

Homeowners, as the owners of property, have certain legal responsibilities to visitors who come onto their property, known as premises liability. If a person is injured on the property, that individual may have an accident claim that can be pursued under the homeowner's insurance policy.

Homeowner Liability Laws for Injuries to Guests

There are two legally recognized categories for guests under the law. They are:

  • Invitees
  • Licensees

In the realm of a person's home, an invitee is someone who is invited onto the property for a business purpose such as landscapers, interior decorators and business clients who go to a home office. A licensee is someone who is invited onto the property for a social purpose. This includes friends, family members and others who do not have a contractual or business relationship with the homeowner.

Consent to be on the property may be express or implied. The duty of care for invitees and licensees is typically the same, but this varies with state law. Where there is a difference in duty of care, the greatest duty is owed to invitees. The specific duty of care owed to either type of guest is ordinary care. This means the homeowner must make sure the licensee or invitee is not injured due to dangerous acts or conditions, particularly if those conditions are hidden to the naked eye.

For instance, if a homeowner knows about a slippery floor or a malfunctioning sink handle but does not tell the visitor and the visitor is injured because of it, the homeowner is liable. The injured party could pursue a claim against the homeowner and their liability insurance or take the homeowner to court.

When Is the Homeowner Not Liable?

The homeowner may not be liable under negligence law if the visitor has most or all of the responsibility for his or her injury. Some states follow contributory negligence, where the injured party will lose if (s)he is even 1 percent at fault for the injuries. There are also states that follow comparative negligence schemes where a plaintiff will lose if (s)he is over 50 percent liable for any injuries.

Homeowners are also not liable if they had no duty of care to the injured party for the type of injury endured. For instance, if the injury happened because of a dangerous condition that would not have been obvious or known to the homeowner, then the homeowner had no duty of care or to warn the injured party.

Finally, homeowners are not liable if the injury occurred outside the scope of their duty of care to the individual. The best example is injuries to trespassers.

Injuries to Trespassers

The duty of care to trespassers is much lower than that to licensees or invitees. Homeowners do not have to warn trespassers about hidden dangers or put up signs for them. All homeowners have to do is not deliberately set traps for trespassers or deliberately cause injury to them. However, if the homeowner is aware of the presence of trespassers or can anticipate their presence because of some item in their yard, then the homeowner owes an ordinary duty of care.

Getting Legal Help

Before pursuing or defending a personal injury action either with the insurance company or a court, it is a very smart idea to retain a licensed personal injury attorney with experience in premises liability. The attorney can identify local laws and help you in negotiations with insurance companies.

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