Premises Liability on Residential Property

Learn about the basic laws governing injury liability for owners of residential real estate.

If you own residential real estate, such as a home, townhouse or condo, you should be aware that if someone gets hurt on your land, you can face personal injury liability. Just as when someone gets hurt in a business, a homeowner is obligated to make sure that his or her land and home is reasonably safe for anyone invited there. The rules governing this homeowner liability for personal injury are called premises liability laws.

Understanding Premises Liability Laws and Personal Injury Liability

Under premises liability laws, a duty is imposed on those who own any type of property, whether residential or commercial. The nature of that duty depends on what the property is used for and on why people are coming to it. There are three major categories used to define the duty of a property owner:

  • Invitee: If people are coming to your premises to do business with you for your benefit, they are classified as invitees and you owe them the highest duty of care. This is most common in commercial buildings such as stores, however, if you do business out of your residential property or you invite someone to your home solely for your benefit, than that person can be classified as an invitee. If you have invitees coming to your premises, you must inspect the premises regularly to identify dangers and you must make those dangers safe or warn invitees about them
  • Licensee: Most people who come to your house or licensees. These are people who come with your permission, but who are there for the mutual benefit of the guest and the property owner. If you invite your neighbor over for a cup of coffee, she is probably classified as a licensee. You owe an intermediate duty to licensees- you need to make sure you either make safe or warn of any dangers that you know about or reasonably should know about. 
  • Trespassers: These are people who come to your house without your permission. You only owe a minimal duty to them- you can't set traps to hurt them.

If you find yourself facing liability because someone got hurt at your home, this is the body of law that will govern to determine whether you were negligent and breached your duty and are thus liable. In most cases, your homeowners insurance policy will cover you for your liability, so they'll be better able to explain the law to you. 

Will You Need to Pay for Legal Representation?

If you are facing personal injury liability as a result of something that happened at your house, your homeowners insurance company will likely cover the costs of legal fees to handle any claims. This means you shouldn't have to take much action yourself, other than notifying your insurer of the accident, and letting them take it from there. If you're a landlord, then your liability coverage should work the same way.

If you were injured on someone's property, and suffered any level of significant injury, it may be a good idea to consult with a personal injury lawyer before making a claim of your own. Most lawyers will take your case on a contingency fee basis, so you won't need to front the costs of a lawyer. Instead, your attorney will be paid a portion of the money he or she recovers on your behalf.

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