Premises Liability: Making Your Home Safe for Halloween
October 21, 2014
With October quickly coming to an end, Halloween is right around the corner. Soon people will be decorating their properties with scary props, carving pumpkins, and trick-or-treating. Although creating the scariest decorations or designing the best costume can be important, homeowners should pay just as much attention to ensuring that the property is safe for visitors of all ages. Miniature ghosts, goblins, and ghouls will soon be flocking to the streets to collect an assortment of candies and other treats. With the rapid influx of children scurrying about door to door, homeowners must be wary of the dangers their property presents and the threat posed by premises liability cases. One out of place decoration can become a tripping hazard and lead to potential legal liability. Now that would really make for a scary holiday.
Although fun, Halloween is statistically one of the most dangerous days of the year, especially for children. Children are usually walking in unfamiliar areas with minimal adult supervision and are often out into at least the evening hours when sunlight begins to fade. These children are often wearing new and unusual clothing. Their costumes often prevent children from walking normally, can be heavy, usually include some type of accessory that the child must carry, and can inhibit their vision. By participating in Halloween festivities, a homeowner is inviting these already encumbered trick-or-treaters onto their property, and therefore they may become liable for any personal injuries sustained thereon. Every homeowner must be sure to check their property for potential dangerous conditions before opening it to visitors, particularly the young ones running rampant on an extended sugar rush.
Under New Jersey law, a trick-or-treater is classified as a licensee which means that they have the right to enter onto the homeowner’s property with consent. Given this legal status, homeowners have a legal duty to ensure trick-or-treaters can safely enter and move about their property without risking injury. The homeowner must make safe any known dangerous conditions on the property that a trick-or-treater could not avoid, and ensure that any potential threats that cannot be repaired have clear warnings. Depending on the language of the lease agreement, landlords or property management companies of rental properties are also typically responsible for making the property safe for visitors
There are several steps a homeowner or renter can take to ensure their property is safe for visitors. First, the property should be made free of any potential tripping hazards. If a hazard cannot be removed, it should be fenced off or clearly marked with warnings. Some of the most problematic Halloween issues include hazardous electrical cords, decorations that stick out of the ground, uneven walkways, and lawn divots. If decorations in the ground are a must, they should be readily visible and should not block stairs or walkways. The area should be kept well-lit, and any burned-out porch lights should be replaced. Additionally, any pets should be kept confined and away from the trick-or-treaters because the constant waves of costumed and often aggressive, unfamiliar children can disturb them. Any stairwells or steps should be cleaned of all debris, and any jack-o-lanterns left out should use battery-operated candles as opposed to real candles made of wax to prevent a potential fire. Finally, homeowners should make sure that their property insurance is current and that it includes liability coverage.
Taking the above precautions to keep the property safe for visitors is a good way to ensure that Halloween will not be made scarier by injuries or lawsuits. Determining a visitor’s status on your property can be an incredibly complex and fact-specific issue that requires the expertise of a knowledgeable attorney. As with most legal matters, any claim is time-sensitive. If you or someone you know has been injured on the property of another, you should contact an experienced attorney to better understand your rights.