Homeowner Liability for Slip and Fall Accidents
First, a little background on these kinds of cases: Slip and fall claims brought against homeowners are most often the result of stair accidents, sidewalk accidents, or flooring-related accidents.
Stair accidents are frequently caused by: a foreign substance on the stairs; absent, defective or poorly placed handrails; wrong or varying heights of each step; or improperly placed carpets or rugs on the steps.
Sidewalk accidents usually occur when someone slips and trips on snow or ice, or on a broken or uneven sidewalk. In these cases, the key question is who is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk? Is it the homeowner or the local municipality.
Floor accidents often occur when someone slips or trips on an area rug without slip-resistant backing, and the rug slides beneath them. Other floor accidents are caused by frayed carpets, wet or freshly waxed floors, broken tiles, or uneven floor levels.
Regardless of what caused the slip and fall, the first thing to understand is that a homeowner is not automatically liable. The homeowner must be negligent in some way, and that negligence must have caused or contributed to the injury.
Whether the homeowner is negligent depends on whether the condition that caused the injury was unreasonably unsafe. Homeowners have a responsibility to keep their property in a reasonably safe condition, especially areas where visitors are expected to walk or pass. If the homeowner knew or should have known about — and then failed to repair — an unsafe condition, the homeowner will usually be held liable.
Note, however, that while the general rule is that homeowners are liable for injuries sustained on their property as a result of their negligence, there are exceptions. The biggest exception is that homeowners are not liable for injuries sustained by someone who is committing a crime on the property.
Homeowners’ Insurance and Slip and Fall Claims
If the homeowner is liable for the injury, then the next thing to determine is whether there is homeowners’ insurance that will cover the claim. Every homeowners’ insurance policy is different, but most slip and fall accidents will be covered, except where the homeowner acted intentionally to cause the slip and fall.
Most homeowners’ policies have two types of coverage: liability coverage and no-fault medical coverage.
Liability coverage protects you if someone is injured on your property and typically provides coverage up to $100,000 or more. However, if the injured person’s damages exceed your homeowners’ insurance policy limits, you will be on the financial hook for the difference. This is why some people choose to purchase additional coverage and/or take steps to make their property safer.
Medical coverage is sometimes called “no-fault medical coverage” or “med pay.” Medical coverage amounts are usually lower than liability coverage (usually only up to $10,000), but will cover the injured person’s medical bills regardless of whether the homeowner is liable.
If a Claim is Filed
If someone slips and falls on your property and files a claim against your homeowners’ insurance, you should cooperate with your insurance company’s adjuster as they investigate the claim. Be sure to provide your insurance company with honest and accurate information, including how and where the accident occurred, what condition caused the accident, what caused the condition, if/when you became aware of the condition, and so on. The adjuster can then accurately determine whether your homeowners’ insurance policy will cover the claim.
If the insurance company is dragging its heels, or if they try to deny coverage for a run-of-the-mill slip and fall, it may be time to talk to an experienced personal injury attorney.