From the poolside to the fully stocked bar, here are five ways to minimize liability risks:
Few people intend to invite trouble to their homes this summer when planning a party. But let’s face it—between the glimmering pool and the fully stocked bar, all it takes is one guest and an accident before you’re asking, “Are you okay?”—not to mention asking yourself, “Will I get sued?” Insurance doesn’t cover everything.
In general, under Massachusetts law, can a guest sue you if he or she is hurt at your house? In short, yes. Whether or not that guest who sues you (the plaintiff) will prevail involves a deeper discussion of the facts of what happened. But here’s how to minimize your risk of getting sued before you ask for RSVPs.
Take “Reasonable” Precautions
The key word here is “reasonable.” In Massachusetts, landowners owe a duty of care to social guests; at the same time, social guests need to be reasonable about their own care. However, if it is objectively foreseeable that someone could get hurt on your property, you the homeowner must use reasonable care to keep the premises in a safe condition; you are also obliged to warn your guests of any danger or defects they wouldn’t know about, but that you are aware of or should know of as the homeowner. So, for example, if there’s a hose lying in the middle of a walkway that might be missed because it blends into the grass, store it away safely.
An exception involves adult trespassers. You have no responsibility to warn an adult trespasser of obvious dangers or defects. If your curious neighbor (and we all know at least one), who was not invited to your party, runs through your yard to steal a hot dog off the grill and steps on a yard tool, breaking his foot, he’s out of luck. He was trespassing.
However, child trespassers present a different story. The law assumes that children are naturally curious and will be attracted to dangers on your property, such as a swimming pool. Keep kids in mind if you have attractive but potentially dangerous items on your property, such as a swimming pool or a trampoline.
In general, before inviting guests to your home this summer, you, as the homeowner, should take a good look around your home and ask yourself, “Are there any hidden dangers that I know or should know about?” Here are common areas that require extra attention and precautions:
1) The Swimming Pool
If one of your guests dives into your pool at the shallow end, you have no duty to warn him or her of this obvious risk. After all, you can’t anticipate that a reasonable adult would subject himself to such harm. Kids, however, need to be supervised, given their status as minors (children under 18). Pools are highly attractive—and high-risk amenities—for children. The onus is on you to childproof open access to the pool. For example, Massachusetts law provides rules and guidelines for fencing and gating the pool. If you are concerned, please give us a call for additional guidance.
2) The Bar
As a social host, your liability for alcohol consumption attaches only when you serve alcohol or have effective control over the supply. If you know or should have known that one of your guests is intoxicated and serve him or her alcohol, regardless, then you could be liable for your guest’s negligent acts resulting from his or her intoxication. The legal test is whether you are exercising reasonable care. To this point, when you serve alcohol, you could be liable for the actions of a guest who causes harm to another because of intoxication. The old trick of collecting your guests’ keys when they arrive at your home still works. An even simpler fix: limit the amount of alcoholic beverages served.
3) The Stairs
Have you been meaning to fix that one loose plank on the stairs that lead to the deck? Before hosting a party, either get it fixed or warn your guests of the wobbly trip up and down the steps.
4) Risk of Electrocution
Before you send out those e-vites, take a close look for dangerous or exposed electrical cords. Any loose wires from cables or A/C units outside of your home need to be fixed, especially if there is a source of water nearby, such as a pool, hose or sprinkler.
Most everyone loves pets, but some pets are dangerous. If a guest (not a trespasser) is injured, or a guest’s property is damaged by your dog, for example, you are liable for the damage, unless the guest was teasing or abusing your dog. Again, the law is more protective of children. If a child is under seven years old when injured by your dog, you are liable even if the child was trespassing or was abusing or tormenting the animal.
If you have any questions, or you’d like to talk about a specific case of yours, please give me call or drop me an email.