When a Deadly Accident Happens on a Rental Property, Who Pays?

When a Deadly Accident Happens on a Rental Property, Who Pays?

A pleasant Thanksgiving Day holiday trip quickly turned into an unmitigated nightmare for one family. While staying at a cottage in Texas rented through home-sharing service Airbnb, a middle-aged father decided to walk outside and sit on a rope swing, casually dangling from a tree. The fateful decision turned out to be his last. The swing was tied to a rotten trunk, which snapped instantly, crashing down on his head. He died hours later in a local hospital.

Compounding the horror of the accident, the family struggled to determine who should be held financially responsible.

Airbnb typically disclaims liability for the conditions of properties listed through its service. Meanwhile, home insurance policies usually exclude commercial activity, a factor which property owners may fail to consider when opening up their residences to vacation renters.

If the property is sublet from another renter, with or without the property owners’ permission, the liability issues can get more complicated.

The family was able to negotiate a settlement with the help of a premises liability lawyer with the host’s home insurance provider, which isn’t always an option for renters, the victim’s son, Zak Stone, wrote in a story in 2015 chronicling the incident. Stone said he hoped the home-sharing service would do more to help promote safety at properties, just like it often offers help marketing them on its site.

The company does now offer a host protection insurance program offering up to $1 million in liability coverage per incident.

“The irony is that amateur innkeepers who couldn’t be trusted with the banal task of photographing and marketing their properties are expected to excel at hospitality’s most important rule: keeping guests safe and alive,” he wrote.

A wide range of issues including fixtures in disrepair, inadequate building security, fires, toxic fumes, or the presence of a dangerous dog can give rise to what is known as premises liability. When a renter, a customer, or visitor gets hurt by dangerous conditions on a private or government-owned property, they may have a valid legal claim. Sometimes minor-sounding problems that are easily ignored, such as an icy walkway (giving rise to a slip and fall) or a rotted tree trunk can cause serious injury or even death.

Below are some things you may want to know about premises liability on rental properties, as well as other types of these claims:

  1. Specifics of premises liability vary somewhat from state to state, but usually there are considerations taken into account such as the legal status of the visitor (whether they are invited onto the property as a customer or guest, or are a trespasser), the conditions of the property and the actions of both the property owner or business and the visitor.
  2. A property owner generally has a duty to warn visitors of unsafe conditions. If you fail to abide by the warning and are hurt, it may impact whether you can hold the property owner legally responsible. Your activities and behavior could also be taken into account. Many states have a “comparative fault” system, whereby your damages would probably be reduced by the extent to which you’ve shown to be responsible for your injuries.
  3. There are special liability concerns for children. While most of the time trespassers are exempt from making a premises liability claim, that may not be the case for children. Under what is known as “attractive nuisance” doctrine, which is part of the law in most states, property elements that could be unsafe and attractive to children – such as swimming pools, playground equipment or construction projects – can give rise to claims. Owners usually must take extra precautions in those cases, such as installing fencing or appropriate safety measures.
  4. In many cases, the foreseeability of the accident is also a factor. If a landlord could reasonably foresee the potential for tenants or legitimate visitors to be injured from an action (or inaction), such as failing to fix a broken handrail, that could result in a legal claim. Landlords generally owe a standard of “reasonable care” to tenants and must keep properties in safe condition.

David Kani is a Southern California based real estate litigation lawyer, representing in premises liability cases both on behalf of injured victims or property owners. To learn your rights in a confidential no-cost call: Connect with David at [hidden email] or 714-907-1519.

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