A four-year-old boy on vacation in Australia recently died while swinging on a defective homemade device. The tragic accident took place at a property rented by the boy’s family through Airbnb. In response to the incident, the local authorities warned families about the risk of accidents involving swings.
Indeed, according to a spokesperson for the Queensland police, “It is a warning for parents to ensure your kids are safe at all times. Unfortunately, it does happen from time to time […]. It’s just one of those things where you have to be aware of your surroundings and the equipment you’re on.”
But, that is not the whole story. When you rent a property, the owner, landlord, and/or property manager can be liable for any accident involving unsafe infrastructure or malfunctioning equipment.
Airbnb’s country manager has expressed sadness over the little boy’s death, and offered support to his grieving parents. Meanwhile, those of us who know the legislation that applies when someone gets injured at a rental property can’t help but think that the company should be offering a lot more than emotional support.
The law is relatively clear. If the accident was caused by a defective product, the maker of the product is liable, but if a landlord/owner/manager fails to warn the renter about the defective product, they too can be liable. The same happens if the equipment or infrastructure is unsafe as a result of neglected maintenance.
Last August, another little boy died as a result of a defective swing in Minnesota. This type of incident is, in fact, not at all uncommon. Writing on Medium.com, Zak Stone recently told the harrowing story of how his father was killed while swinging at an Airbnb rental in Texas when the trunk the swing was tied to “broke in half and fell on [the victim’s] head.”
Airbnb’s attitude back then was similar in that they apologized without recognizing any liability for the incident. According to Stone, the company followed a “build it first, mend it later” philosophy.
“Could the company, with its reportedly $24 billion valuation and plans to go public, do more to ensure the safety of the properties where millions of guests stay each year?,” Stone asked, “As Airbnb rises into a global hospitality behemoth — reinventing not just how we travel but how we value private space — what responsibility does the company have to those who have given it their dollars and trust?”
People whose loved ones have died due to lack of safety within a rental property, such as Stone, are well aware that startups move a lot faster, changing the rules of what we know, and legislation usually lags behind. However, it is certainly time we started holding the likes of Airbnb accountable. When some form of negligence is involved in a fatal accident, there is bound to be a liability, and Airbnb can no longer dodge the bullet.
If there is a swing at the Airbnb property, allowing your infant child or aging father to use it does not constitute negligence on your part. We have laws to protect people who are injured at a rental property, and Airbnb is certainly not above them.
David Kani is a California based trial lawyer, author, and social commentator.
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