A parcel delivery person slips on your icy driveway or walkway, which was not recently cleared of snow or salted. A friend trips and is injured on a loose or damaged board on your porch. A child falls in and drowns in a fish pond which is not properly fenced.
There are many ways in which an accident and injury can occur on a homeowner’s property, and the above situations are just a few of many potential scenarios. The concept of ‘premises liability’ means that every property owner/occupier is at risk of being found negligent if someone is injured on their property. And if you are found to have not taken reasonable care to keep people who come onto your property safe, as required under Ontario’s Occupiers’ Liability Act, you can be sued for pain and suffering, medical and rehabilitation expenses, lost income, and other expenses arising from the accident.
In Waldick et al. v. Malcolm et al., a man was injured when he slipped and fell on an icy driveway that had not been salted, at a farm property where his sister and brother-in-law were the legal tenants. The tenants were found liable in the man’s injuries, and it was asserted that the injured man had not willingly assumed the risk of falling despite knowing of the potential danger.
In Irvine v Seipt (2016), a visitor to a neighbourhood gathering sued the homeowners after she was frightened by their dog, tried to flee, then fell while ascending the steps of their slightly elevated back porch. The judge in this case found that the uneven height of the porch stairs created a hazard and thus, the homeowners were 65 per cent liable for the woman’s fractured wrist injury.
Being sued is a stressful circumstance for any homeowner. However, if a property owner has inadequate liability coverage, it can also be a financially devastating event, particularly as court awards in Canada are increasing, along with medical costs, incomes and legal fees.
As a property owner, you are advised to seriously consider your potential liability and purchase an amount of coverage that provides security in the event of a lawsuit. Anyone who has not changed the liability coverage on their property for many years should review whether their coverage is still adequate. The personal liability section of tenant’s and homeowner’s insurance applies not only in the home, but elsewhere in the world, and covers policyholders against injury they unintentionally inflict on others. There are some limitations to this coverage, however, which should be discussed with your insurance representative. For example, your insurance company will not cover you in a lawsuit against another family member if you sue them after being harmed in your shared residence. Some policies offer a moderate medical payment liability coverage to cover medical expenses that are incurred within one year of an accident, if someone is accidentally injured on your property. For example, this coverage would be available if someone tripped over your cat and was injured.
Liability insurance coverage can provide peace of mind, but each property owner must assess how much coverage is appropriate given their unique situation. At one time, many homeowners were insured for $500,000; however, this is no longer considered adequate, given rising costs and awards.
Certainly, if we take reasonable steps to ensure that our property is safe, for example, with respect to anti-slip flooring, adequate lighting, promptly clearing away clutter, and so on, injuries to anyone coming onto our property are far less likely to occur. However, no one can be absolutely certain that a visitor to their home will not, at some point, be accidently injured. For this reason, it’s a good idea to make sure that we’re adequately protected in the event that an injury claim is filed against us, as property owners.