Halloween is a time for tricks and treats, but if homeowners don't take precautions it could be a night of trips and falls that lead to liability claims.
Because a homeowner is inviting people onto their property to trick-or-treat when they decide to hand out candy, they are potentially liable for injuries visitors suffer while on their property.
When the porch light is on, trick-or-treaters are considered to be invited onto the property, therefore the homeowner must exercise a level of reasonable care. If the porch light is off, however, the same level of care is not required because there is a tacit understanding between the homeowner and trick-or-treaters that they are not welcome and will not receive candy if they go to the door.
Homeowners who intend to welcome treat seekers just need to take a few minutes to look around their property to assess and correct potential hazards. Precautions recommended by liability experts include:
- Being mindful of decorations and special effects. They suggest turning off the fog machine so visibility is not impeded. And, if it is a windy day, securing decorations that could come loose and injure someone.
- Keeping a close eye on pets so they don't get scared and bite a visitor.
- Using lights instead of open flames to prevent fires and burn injuries.
- Creating warnings for trip and fall hazards such as sprinkler heads, loose brick or crack in the walkway.
- Making sure the yard is well lit.
- Taking photos if any injuries or mishaps do occur.
Even if homeowners who do take all the precautions, they may still be legally liable if they pull a prank that frightens a child or adult who injures him- or herself while fleeing.
In the simplest terms, to prove a liability claim, a plaintiff has to show the property owner's conduct was negligent, there were actual damages, and that the negligent conduct was the cause of the injuries.
If there are hazards that a homeowner fails to recognize or remedy, a plaintiff could make a case for negligence. Negligence is the “failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances,” according to the Cornell University Law School website. “Primary factors to consider in ascertaining whether the person's conduct lacks reasonable care are the foreseeable likelihood that the person's conduct will result in harm, the foreseeable severity of any harm that may ensue, and the burden of precautions to eliminate or reduce the risk of harm.”
Once negligence is established, the plaintiff will have to attach a dollar amount to the injury suffered. That amount is considered the damages. An additional component of a liability claim is the cause of the injury. To secure a successful outcome for the plaintiff, a judge or jury would have to believe that without the actions of the at-fault party, or their failure to act to remedy a hazard, there would be no injury.
If you or your child has been while visiting someone else's property and you think they behaved in a negligent manner, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the offices of trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at 800-529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.