How to reduce your liability as a property owner - Avvo
As a property owner, you have a duty of care to every person who accesses your property. This refers to your obligation as a property owner to keep people on your property safe.
Understanding your duty of care, how to make your property safer for other people, and how to defend against a property liability case will help you minimize any problems that might occur.
Improving injury-prone locations
Most incidents occur on or in stairwells, walkways, and swimming pools. Improving these areas will greatly increase the safety of your property.
Slip and fall injuries can be far more serious if they occur around stairwells. You can make your stairwells safer by taking the following steps:
- Add a handrail, no-slip mats to each step, and extra lighting
- Remove clutter on the steps
- Monitor stairwells and mop up spills when they occur
- Tighten loose banisters
Walkways can also be hazards, but the danger can be reduced if you:
- Keep areas clutter and spill free
- Add more lighting
- Add no-slip mats to improve footing
Swimming pools may pose a danger as well, especially to curious children and intoxicated adults. Consider doing the following:
- Install fences with self-closing gates and child-proof locks
- Remove fixtures near fences that make it easier for people to climb into the pool area
- Add storage for pool toys and chemicals
How to reduce the risk of injury and liability
In addition to improving areas where injuries are likely to occur, you can take measures to reduce the risk that people will hurt themselves on your property.
For example, you can:
- Conduct regular property inspections to detect hazards
- Put up wet floor signs to mark spills that haven't been cleaned up yet
- Install fences to deter trespassers from entering your property
- Install railings to help people safely navigate your property
Defending against a property liability case
If someone does become injured as a result of time spent on your property, you may need to defend against a property liability case.
Laws related to different degrees of liability vary across the United States, but a property liability attorney can help you prepare a case that considers the laws in your state.
It will also help to familiarize yourself with the various types of people who can enter your property, as well as the rules for determining liability.
Understanding common terms for people on your property
Property liability cases use a number of terms to define the people who may enter your property. Your duty of care varies depending on the type of person.
Invitees are people invited onto property for business purposes. They are afforded the highest duty of care. Property owners typically need to repair and correct known hazards and inspect for hazards in areas invitees frequent. Invitees include:
- Customers of a retail store or home business
- Job applicants
Licensees are people invited onto property for social purposes. Property owners must ensure their properties are safe for licensees by repairing and correcting hazards, but inspection is not required. Licensees include:
- Family members
Trespassers are people who enter the property without authorization. Property owners have no obligation to protect trespassers, including:
- Strangers taking short cuts across the property
- People the property owner knows and does not want to visit, such as ex-partners
Trespassing children are minors who enter the property without authorization. Property owners must make sure property is safe for this class of trespassers, including:
- Neighborhood children
- Children on vacation near property
Owner vs occupier liability
The property owner is often also the property’s occupier. However, this isn't always the case, such as when a property owner rents out their apartment to a tenant. In cases like these, the courts must determine whether the owner or the occupier is liable for injuries suffered on the property.
According to Colorado personal injury lawyer Donald Joseph Banovitz, the following factors may determine whether an owner or occupier is liable:
- The accident’s location. For example, an owner would be more likely to be liable for an injury occurring in a common area, like an apartment complex’s sidewalk. Meanwhile, an occupier would be more likely to be liable for injuries occurring inside the property, as the owner isn’t responsible for the placement of furniture, etc.
- The property owner’s responsibilities. A property owner must repair hazards immediately or cordon it off until repairs can be made
- The occupier’s liability. An occupier is responsible for making sure their personal property is safe. For example, if an occupier spilled a drink, they are responsible for mopping it up before someone slips on it.
Collecting evidence of the circumstances of the incident can help your lawyer establish liability and determine the correct approach for their case.
Making improvements around your home and land now can help you uphold your duty of care, minimize the risks of personal injury to others, and reduce the chances of a property liability case being brought against you in the future.
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