Premises Liability: Your Duty to Your Holiday Guests
‘Tis the season for holiday gatherings. Between Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, Americans have many opportunities to celebrate. If you’re planning to host dinner or a party at your house during the upcoming holidays, you should know that you have a legal obligation to provide your guests with a reasonable expectation of safety. This legal obligation is known as premises liability.
Premises liability refers to injuries caused by unexpected dangers or inadequate protection from known dangers. Consider the following example: if you are in the process of repairing damaged flooring, you expect the floor will be dangerous. As a result, homeowners may wish to keep guests out of this area during their holiday gatherings, or provide adequate warning that this area could be dangerous. Failure to provide warning could make the homeowner liable to a premises liability lawsuit if a guest is injured because of the damaged floor. When entertaining, hosts should also ensure pathways are clear- this can include removing throw rugs, securing electrical cords and wires, and close drawers and cabinets completely after use.
Homeowners have a duty to protect guests from accidents not only during the party, but also as they are arriving and leaving. As the possibility of snow and ice storms loom during the winter holidays, hosts have a duty to prevent guests from suffering slip and fall accidents due to ice and snow. A previous blog post, warned that Pennsylvania residents are required to remove snow and ice within a specified time limit. This varies throughout the state. If the snow and ice is not cleared within the specified time limit and guests slip and fall on ice on the host’s property, the homeowner may be liable for a premises liability lawsuit.
Although they may be friendly and lovable, your pets can also be a premise liability. Canine Journal recently reported that 4.5 million dog bites occur in the United States each year. In the majority of dog bite cases, the dog belongs to a friend, relative or neighbor, suggests PA Law Blogs. Party hosts may want to consider keeping their pet in a separate room away from guests for the duration of the party, especially if there is a large number of people who may not be acquainted with the dog, or young children who may play rough with the dog, or if the dog gets anxious around people.
As many holiday parties and social gatherings involve alcohol, hosts may want to consider limiting guests’ consumption and taking steps to prevent visibly intoxicated guests from driving home. It may be a good idea to proactively ask guests to volunteer to be designated drivers or suggest carpooling options. Some states may hold party hosts liable in the event an intoxicated guest causes a drunk driving accident. In Pennsylvania, party hosts can only be liable if they knowingly provided alcohol to guests under 21-years-old, and those minor guests cause a drunk driving accident after leaving the party, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Although you may not be legally responsible if an adult party guests causes a drunk driving accident on the way home, you do want a friend to be in this situation that can cause extreme, or fatal harm to themselves or others.
Premises Liability laws suggest that persons entering an individual’s property have a reasonable expectation of not getting injured and that property owners are responsible for maintaining a safe environment. Families hosting holiday dinners and gatherings for Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and other celebrations are urged to take every precaution to ensure the safety of their guests. Keep pavements clear of ice, snow and other slippery materials; keep inside floors clear of debris; section off any part of the house that may be under construction; and keep your pets in a safe and warm place away from guests. Don’t let personal injury accidents or premises liability lawsuits ruin your holidays.