Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Someone Was Injured On My Property"-- Are You Liable?

This is a frequently asked question. The common misconception is that you as a homeowner or landowner are automatically liable if another person is injured on your property. In fact, I've heard many people say: "If someone is injured on your property, you're liable for it." This, as a general rule, is not true. You as an Ohio homeowner or landowner are liable only if you are negligent.

Some examples might illustrate the point. If a guest or relative falls down your basement steps due to his or her inattentiveness, you are not liable--you did nothing wrong. Similarly, if a neighbor trips on your sidewalk, or on a log in plain view in your backyard, again, you would not be liable.

Here is the general rule in Ohio for your duties as a landowner: you owe a duty to warn of, or make safe, any hazard that you know of or should know of if you had exercised due diligence. Now let's take that standard and apply it to an example where a landowner would be negligent and therefore liable for injuries to a guest or invitee (a person on your land with permission).

Let's say you know of a rather large hole in your backyard that is hidden by overgrown grass. You know it's there because you cut the grass. But, over the course of time, you don't fill the hole, and you don't mark it as a hole or warn anyone of the hole. You or your kids invite some friends over and a guest promptly breaks his ankle while engaging in some backyard activity.

In this instance, your failure to warn of, or make safe, a hazard like a hidden hole would probably render you negligent under Ohio premises liability law. What is important to remember, however, is that every case is different, and there are no hard and fast rules here. Change a fact or two in any one of those examples and it could mean the difference between being liable for negligence or not. The key for any landowner is to use common sense and take reasonable efforts to maintain the safety of your property.

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