Is a property owner liable for your injuries if you slip (or trip) and fall on residential property? As in almost any personal injury case, there must be negligence. Many people think that, simply because they got hurt on someone else’s property, the property owner’s insurance will cover the claim. That is incorrect. The medical payments provision of the homeowner’s insurance will cover some of the injured person’s medical bills, but the homeowner is not liable unless he/she was negligent. Read on to learn more.
A homeowner is only liable for an accident on his/her property if the homeowner was negligent and his/her negligence was a cause of the accident. Simply because you fell on someone’s property does not mean that the homeowner was negligent. Further, simply because there may have been a slippery or other unsafe condition on the homeowner’s property does not mean that the homeowner was negligent. The condition that caused your injury had to have been unreasonably unsafe.
Most slip (or trip) and fall accidents in residential real estate involve slipping or tripping on stairs, slipping or tripping on rugs, carpets, or the floor, or slipping or tripping on sidewalks or on ice or snow. Let's take a closer look at each of these scenarios.
Stair accidents can often be the result of negligence, but sometimes people just trip on stairs by simple unavoidable accident -- at least in terms of the homeowner's potential liability.
For example, a woman wearing a long dress might get her heel caught in the hem of the dress and fall down the stairs. That is not the homeowner’s fault.
But staircases can be unsafe in many different ways, in ways that people don’t even notice. For example, the following factors, among others, can contribute to someone slipping and falling down a set of stairs:
Rugs, carpets, and floors can also give rise to homeowner’s liability. Area rugs without a proper grip pad underneath are a serious slipping hazard. People can trip over carpets with holes in them or carpets that are frayed at the edge. Floors can be slippery, especially if they are wet or freshly waxed.
Slipping or tripping on ice or snow on residential real estate causes a lot of injuries and a lot of litigation. However, winning an ice or snow case against a homeowner is not easy.
Although the law in most states is relatively clear with respect to ice and snow -- homeowners have a duty to act reasonably to remove the ice and snow and make the sidewalk or path reasonably safe -- juries in cold weather states are reluctant to find homeowners liable in such cases. Jurors in these states tend to feel that ice and snow is a known hazard of living in those states, and people should be careful. This keeps settlement values low for ice and snow cases against private homeowners.
Homeowners must act reasonably to keep their paths and internal walkways in a reasonable state of repair. It is generally the municipality’s job to repair public sidewalks. Tripping over a broken piece of sidewalk can give rise to a negligence claim, depending on the size of the break in the sidewalk.
Theoretically, after a personal injury, you should take pictures of the accident scene, your clothes, and any bruises that you might have received as soon as you get up if you are able to do so. The condition of ice and snow can change within minutes. Ice can melt, or it can be cleared away. It can be difficult to impossible to win an ice and snow case without pictures showing the ice and snow as it was at the moment of your injury.
However, that may not be feasible or reasonable in a residential real estate case. You are, after all, a guest at someone else’s house, and most people would consider it rude if someone started taking pictures and gathering evidence at someone else’s house as soon as they got up. If you get hurt at someone else’s house, you will have to make a judgment call as to whether you want to start taking pictures of the accident scene.