Home and business owners have the legal responsibility of making their properties as safe as possible for the public. The property owners legal duty to prevent injury varies from state to state.
However, the mandates are designed to ensure that people of all ages stay safe and that owners are held liable for injuries and accidents that could have been prevented with reasonable care. You can meet the legal expectation of keeping the public safe from harm by learning how the law categorizes visitors to your property and what level of care you are required by law to take to prevent injuries and accidents.
The law defines invitees as anyone you invite onto your property and into your store or home for business purposes. Common examples of invitees include:
- job applicants
- delivery people
- utility workers
According to the law, you owe invitees the highest degree of care when it comes to protecting them from injury and accidents. You have the duty to reasonably inspect for, discover, and correct unknown hazards. You also must take reasonable actions to protect your patrons from harm.
The definition of reasonable, however, can vary from state to state. Most states define reasonable as what a person of ordinary intelligence and judgment would do under similar circumstances. If the case goes to trial, it will be up to the judge or jury to define what constitutes reasonable under the law.
You can base your own definition of reasonable on examples provided to property and business owners. For example, if your building has a stairwell, you must regularly inspect, maintain, and repair it so that people who go up and down the stairs are protected from liabilities like broken steps or loose handrails.
The law understands, however, that you cannot watch every inch of your property every second of the day. If a person falls on a banana peel that was newly dropped on the floor, you may not be legally liable for the person's accident. The court would understand that you may not have been able to pick up the banana peel in time to prevent the person's fall.
The law also says that the property owners legal duty to prevent injury also extends to people whom you invite into your building and onto your property for social reasons. For instance, if you host a party and invite your family and friends over for the evening, you have the legal responsibility to protect them from injuries and accidents.
However, according to the law, your burden of providing that safety is lower than what you are expected to provide for invitees. For licensees, you must provide reasonable care to protect your guests from known hazards.
For example, if you know that a stair in your home is loose, you must warn your guests or restrict access to the stairwell. If you fail to tell them to watch the step or stay off the stairs entirely, you could be found liable for their injuries.
You are not expected to go out of your way to search out and repair unknown hazards. If someone in your home is hurt because of a risk you were not aware of, you may not be held legally responsible for the person's injuries.
The law defines trespassers as people who enter your building or property without your permission. You are not legally obligated to protect those individuals. However, at the same time you cannot willfully harm them.
You could actually be held legally liable for a trespasser's injuries if you caused or maintained unsafe conditions on your property. You could also be found responsible if you thought the conditions would not be found by trespassers or if you failed to warn trespassers about the risks found on your property.
To prevent a lawsuit against you, you should maintain and repair your property with the presumption that it could be breached by trespassers at any moment. By anticipating what could pose a risk to them, you lower your liability as a home or business owner.
The law also takes into account how legally obligated you are to protect children who might trespass onto your property. Children are not held to the same standard as adults when it comes to the crime of trespassing. The law understands that children cannot help their curiosity and creativity and thus may not understand how much danger they put themselves when they wander onto your property.
As such, the law transfers that understanding onto you as a legal adult and property owner. You are expected to anticipate what risks are on your property that could pose a danger to children.
Some of the most prominent risks on your property are what the law calls attractive nuisances. These risks are attractive to children but also put their safety in jeopardy.
Some of the most common attractive nuisances that property owners may not realize pose a danger to children include:
- swimming pools
- hot tubs
- lawn mowers and tractors
Your pets and livestock also can be a danger to kids who come onto your property. They may want to pet your dog or feed your horses through the fence. You should take precautions to keep your animals off limits to kids.
Children also may wander onto your property to jump in the pool or take your tractor for a joyride. In the process, however, they may suffer injuries for which you are legally liable.
The law demands that you take preventative measures to eliminate the risk of injury or accidents to trespassing children. You may be advised to put up a fence around your pool, install an alarm system for your hot tub or spa, or chain up your riding lawn mower, among other safety precautions.
You also are encouraged to keep an eye on your property and watch for children who might wander onto your property at anytime during the day or night. You should call the police if kids refuse to leave your yard or building. You also should tell the kids' parents about their trespassing if possible.
Overall, you are required by law to inspect your property regularly and identify anything that could pose a danger to trespassing children. You also must maintain, repair, or replace these fixtures so that you lower your legal liability as a home or business owner.
As a home and business owner, you are required by law to protect anyone who comes onto your property. If they get hurt or killed, you could be found legally liable for their injuries or wrongful death.
Even so, you may not know what measures to take when it comes to safeguarding the public. What risks are you supposed to look for and how do you know what constitutes a risk and what does not?
Rather than guess and find yourself in legal hot water, you should reach out to professionals who are trained to help you. You can start with your insurance agent who can educate you more about liabilities and attractive nuisances.
You can also rely on the counsel of an attorney who practices property or real estate law. Your lawyer can help you come up with a plan of action to eliminate risks on your property and keep friends, relatives, clients, contractors, and other people safe.