It’s every homeowner’s nightmare: a visitor slips and falls on your property and threatens to sue.
The first thing you need to do is make sure the person is alright. Call an ambulance to ensure they receive proper medical treatment. Then call your home insurance provider.
Injuries on Private Property
In Canada, it is a homeowner’s responsibility to ensure that the property is safe for visitors. Inviting people to an unsafe environment can be considered negligent, depending on the situation. Homeowners should warn visitors about any potential threats to their well-being, including uneven stairs or floorboards that could cause a person to trip and fall. If you have a cluttered home, cleaning up or warning guests to be careful is essential.
Renters are not immune to the rules of negligence. Although the landlord has a responsibility to provide tenants with a safe place to live, tenants are responsible for ensuring that that safety extends to their guests. A visitor who falls down a flight of stairs could blame the landlord who didn’t install a handrail, or the tenant who didn’t replace a burnt-out staircase light.
If you live in an apartment or condo, you are responsible for guests inside your unit. If a visitor is injured in an elevator or lobby, it is the landlord’s responsibility to provide compensation. Otherwise, injuries that occur within your living space will be attributed to you, and will have to be covered by your insurance policy.
Injuries on Commercial Properties
If you are a business owner, retailer or restaurant owner, you (hopefully) frequently have customers entering your property. The same safety rules apply to commercial enterprises as to homes – you, as the property owner or renter, have a responsibility to take “reasonable care” to provide a danger-free environment for anyone who enters.
The exact definition of reasonable care is determined by the courts, so if you are a business owner being sued for causing an injury due to negligence, contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Whether or not the injured party is ultimately assigned blame for their injuries, it is wise to let your insurer know that a claim may be made.
Although you have a responsibility as a property owner to protect or warn against injuries, the visitor may be found responsible for their own injuries.
If, for example, there’s a winter storm in your city and the roads are treacherous and the sidewalks are covered in ice and snow, a person walking up your (uncleared) walkway could slip and blame you for their injuries. After all, you are responsible for clearing your walkway and providing safe access to your home. However, a reasonable person would not expect your walkway to be cleared during a storm. A reasonable person would also realize that the walkway could be slippery, and that anyone who walks on it should take precautions.
In situations where a person is injured on your property and is found partially responsible for the accident, he or she could also be considered partially responsible for the financial cost of that accident. If a court awards the injured person $200,000 and says they are 50 per cent responsible, they would only be able to collect $100,000 from the property owner. Of course, this still means you are on the hook for a hefty sum.
Luckily for property owners, home insurance policies usually cover the costs of injuries on your property. In most situations, the insurance company will have a lawyer who will work with the injured person’s lawyer to settle the situation. When an accident occurs on your property it is not pleasant, but having a home insurance provider that negotiates and settles the claim makes the unfortunate situation tolerable. Make sure you have coverage. Otherwise you may be looking at a massive personal liability bill.