We live in a litigious world, where legal action can be taken against a homeowner for injuries sustained by any person who simply ventures onto our property. In order to safeguard ourselves from personal litigation and financial losses, property holders must ensure they have comprehensive liability coverage on their homeowners policy.
The liability portion of an insurance policy protects homeowners against incidents resulting in third party injuries or damage to someone’s property. If those injuries are a result of a failure on the homeowner’s part to maintain the property and keep it safe, then the homeowner can be cited for deliberate negligence, and may lose the benefits of the liability protection.
How can you make sure you have eliminated any obvious risks of anyone sustaining injuries on your premises? What are the top five concerns around the exterior of your home that can cause liability issues, and how can they be resolved?
Individuals, and children especially, are drawn to pools, oftentimes with unfortunate and tragic results. The best preventative measure to ensure pool safety is to block reasonable access to the pool. Have a barrier in place which completely surrounds the pool’s perimeter. Many municipalities require as much when a homeowner has a pool. A layer of protection in this regard is recommended; fencing around the pool should be considered in addition to fencing that may already line the property.
Fences and walls should be at of adequate height, perhaps four feet as a minimum. Any gates to the pool fence should open outward, away from the pool, and should also close and latch on their own. The latch should be high enough so that young children cannot operate it. Additionally, keep the pool covered, have rescue equipment easily accessible, and consider a pool alarm to alert you when someone may be near your pool without your knowledge.
The laws covering dog bite liabilities vary according to state, but in general, the owner of a biting dog can be held liable if the dog bit someone on the owner’s property. Negligence is a factor on this issue; if the dog has a history of behaving aggressively, and if the owner has not taken due diligence to isolate the dog from public contact, then a liability claim against the homeowner will often succeed.
Recently, insurance companies have moved to limit dog bite coverage. Some do not contain any language to address this while others cover only certain breeds of dogs and may go so far as to exclude breeds that are categorized as hostile. Check your policy and purchase a liability rider if needed.
Either way, if you own a dog, it is essential that you protect yourself from incidents that may arise from a bite. If your dog is housed outside, or allowed a section of the yard to run, be sure the dog is in a secure enclosure, preferably so that the dog is out of vision of passersby. If a fenced barrier is not permissible, consider an “invisible fence” and train your dog to understand and respect it. At the very least, be sure your dog is collared and leashed. The leash should not allow the dog access to common areas of the house, like the front sidewalk or porch.
Snow, Ice, and other Weather Related Dangers
Severe weather conditions have the potential to create hazardous obstacles to individuals accessing your property or walking across your driveway and sidewalks. Snow and ice especially are a common cause of dangerous slips and falls.
If you own a home, the responsibility rests with you to keep these areas shoveled and free of debris. Snow and ice should be removed as soon as possible to minimize injuries that may occur on slippery walkways or entryways. Un-clutter walkways by removing branches, wet leaves, and children’s toys. Trim branches that look like they may fall due to high winds or from the weight of snow.
Playground equipment is not only used by your family, but others as well. You will want to make certain that any play equipment you have set up in your yard is safe and in good repair. Because playground sets go through changes of seasons, they are subject to weathering. Check it occasionally so that you know it is sturdy and safe. Make sure that screws or nails have not loosened themselves, and that there are no jagged metal edges that may snag on a child’s skin.
The area under a playground needs attention as well. Ideally, the play area should be covered with a soft material, such as rubber mulch or hardwood chips. The covering should be thick enough to soften any falls, and extend at least five feet out from all sides.
Porches, Stairways, and Handrails
While enjoyable, porches and patios have the potential to be dangerous to visitors. Wooden porches are exposed to the elements and are subject to frequent use. As such, they require repair more often than other areas of your home.
Make sure the construction of the stairs and porch remains structurally sound. For concrete porches, check for any crumbling or indication of deterioration. A railing should accompany multiple steps, and any installed handrail should be sturdy and not wobbly.
Keeping an eye on the above will not only give you peace of mind, but keep you away from any liability claims against you or your assets.