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How the Premises Liability Grinch Can Steal Your Happy Holiday

During the holiday season the media is filled with stories on motor vehicle accidents – including pedestrian and bicycle accidents – that break hearts every holiday season.

But, hiding behind the eggnog in the living room and on the top shelf of the bedroom closet and in the myriad stores and restaurants you frequent, lurks a lesser well-known danger. It’s the accident that causes serious personal injuries and sometimes a wrongful death resulting in a premises liability lawsuit.

Every homeowner, landlord, renter, management company, restaurateur, and shop keeper is at risk for a premises liability lawsuit if someone is injured – or worse – on your property. And the holidays, with its increase in entertaining, shopping, and traveling, are ground zero for such lawsuits.

A premises liability lawsuit is a negligence tort. Determining if you have a premises liability lawsuit and proving it can be complicated and takes an attorney who is experienced in handling premises liability lawsuits.

In essence, your trial lawyer needs to prove that either you knew about the danger or you SHOULD HAVE KNOWN about the danger.

Let’s say you own an apartment building and kids frequently skateboard on the stairway. Let’s hypothesize that someone using the stairway falls and is injured when the railing gives way. It is not enough to say that the management company or property owner did not know of the loose railing, because the question becomes: should they have known.

If you are the defendant in this example of a premises liability lawsuit, you, as the management company or property owner, would have to demonstrate that you have an appropriate inspection and maintenance protocol that was followed consistently.

During the holidays, accidents are more likely to happen than at other times of the year because most of us are out in stores, on the road, at parties, and hosting parties more often.

So it pays for you to take some common sense precautions and be aware of typical holiday accident scenes.

Dog bite cases always spike during the holiday. Your friendly pooch is suddenly accosted by a whole host of loud strangers coming and going in his territory. A dog not accustomed to children may suddenly find these little two-legged animals a threat. Gates and doors are not secured, letting Fido free to finally take on that annoying (in his world), neighbor’s dog.

Electric cords criss-cross floors and paths to light festive decorations or to heat dishes on a buffet or counter can become deadly. Guests can trip over the cords or suffer extensive burns when they are covered in hot food or liquid. Spilled liquids can cause falls. That glass patio door can be walked through. Tree roots and cracked walkways can be tripped over, breaking bones.

Alcohol comes with its own potential drawbacks. With one drink too many that annual Thanksgiving dinner argument that turns into fist-to-cuffs can evolve into a premises liability lawsuit against you. Of course we all know our liability if we allow a guest to drive under the influence.

So as part of your “Holiday To Do List,” take a risk inventory of your property and take care of any necessary maintenance. When guests come over, put your dog in another room for both his and your guests’ protection. If you are serving wine or spirits, be aware of how much your guests are drinking, and, of course, neither you nor your guest should ever drink and drive.

Accidents happen. Make sure your homeowners insurance is up to date and make sure you have an umbrella policy to protect your assets. Then take just a few common sense precautions, and you can keep the “happy” in the happy holidays for many years to come.

From my family to yours and from all of us at Olan Law, happy holidays.