There is a lot of misinformation around about exactly what happens if someone injures themselves on your property or if you injure yourself while on another person’s property.
The law in this area can be quite complex, and it’s certainly not as simple as every time somebody injures themselves, they are entitled to make a claim against the property owner!
Let’s take a look at what actions property owners can take in order to minimize their risk of losing out thanks to personal injury claims and clarify some of the myths around this process.
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What is your duty of care as a property owner?
As a property owner, you have a responsibility to take ordinary care when looking after the wellbeing of people who are on your property.
Ordinary care means acting with care and prudence to ensure that a person behaving in a normal and predictable way on your property will not come to harm.
If you are found not to have taken ordinary care and someone injures themselves, this could mean that you are found to be negligent and liable for legal damages.
Some examples of taking ordinary care include:
- Removing trip hazards and obstacles from walkways
- If it is not possible to remove potential hazards, for example, if you are having work done on your property, you should ensure that the hazard is clearly visible. If it’s not easily visible, for example, a hole covered by a tarp, then you should ensure that attention is drawn to the hazard by telling visitors about it or through the use of signage.
- Taking care to remove hazards that a person might reasonably come into contact with; for example, if you have an exposed wire on the outside wall of your home where someone might be walking, you should take care to cover it up or make it safe.
Are you liable if someone trespasses on your property?
If someone is on your property which you aren’t aware of, in other words, a trespasser, then you no longer have a duty of ordinary care because you can’t reasonably have known that the person might come across the hazard.
However, this doesn’t mean that you have absolutely no responsibility to trespassers. You have the duty not to act in a reckless and potentially harmful manner. For example, you couldn’t lay traps to catch potential intruders or recklessly fire a gun because there is a good probability of that action causing harm to someone else.
If trespassers access your property and you know about this, for example, you have seen people walking across your land, then they become ‘discovered’, which means that you have a duty of ordinary care towards them even though you hadn’t expressly invited them on to your property.
A good rule of thumb is to ensure that there are no potential hazards on your property wherever possible, and if there are that you clearly mark them out. This ensures that everyone is safe and that you will have been seen to be acting with ordinary care.
What should you do if someone injures themselves on your property?
If someone does injure themselves on your property, then it’s a good idea to gather as much evidence as possible that you were acting with ‘ordinary care.’
You can do things like take photographs of signs warning of hazards or photographs of the hazards themselves so that you can demonstrate how visible they were. If you made the visitor to your property aware of the hazard, then you should also keep a record of this, for example, by saving text messages with a time and date stamp.
What should you do if you injure yourself on someone else’s property?
If you injure yourself on someone else’s property and they didn’t take ordinary care to safeguard you, then it’s possible that you will be able to make a personal injury claim. Brown & Crouppen law firm are specialists in personal injury claims and will be able to advise on whether your specific claim has merit.
If you were trespassing, it is possible to make a claim; however, this fact will sometimes be held against you. It is largely down to the severity of your injuries and the property owner’s level of negligence as to whether your case will be accepted or not.
A personal injury lawyer will be able to give you advice that is tailored to your specific situation.
Personal liability insurance
As well as taking a reasonable level of care to ensure that people do not come to harm while on your property, you can also protect yourself from liability claims by ensuring that you have an insurance policy that covers you for personal liability.
Personal liability insurance means that you are protected against having to pay legal fees and compensation out of your own pocket, which can potentially save you a lot of money.
Anyone who is responsible for a property should consider personal liability insurance for complete peace of mind. It is often included within home and renters insurance policies if you check the terms and conditions. It will cover you for things like:
- Medical payments to others. This option often allows you to make a payment to cover medical expenses without a legal claim having to be filed.
- Protection against damage caused to another person’s property, for example, if a tree on your property were to fall and cause damage to another property.
- Damages caused by members of your household, like your children.
- Damages caused by pets, for example, if your dog were to cause destructive damage to someone else’s property or injure them with a bite.
Statute of limitations
It’s worth bearing in mind that there is a statute of limitations on legal claims for property liability, which will vary from state to state. This means that there is a limited period of time from the time that injury was sustained to file a claim. Claims filed outside of this time period will usually be dismissed.