Real estate open houses welcome visitors onto a property that is listed for sale. Hosting an open house can be a great way to show potential buyers your property and spark enough interest to elicit an offer – or, ideally, multiple offers. If an open house ends in a visitor suffering a personal injury, however, you could end up in a legal battle instead of escrow. According to injury firm Rosenthal & Kreeger, LLP as the owner of the property, you could be liable for a guest’s injuries if you reasonably should have prevented the accident.
Your Duties as a Property Owner
It is always better to prevent a guest injury than to try to resolve the issue once someone has already suffered a serious injury. Preventing injuries to guests is one of your legal responsibilities as a property owner. Premises liability laws in every state hold property owners to certain standards of care in the maintenance and state of their premises. These standards of care vary depending on the status of the person on your property.
Trespasser: someone without permission to enter your property. You generally owe no duties of care to a trespasser unless that trespasser is under the age of 18.
Licensee: someone who enters your property with your permission, but for his or her purposes. You must repair known property hazards and warn licensees of potential health or safety risks.
Invitee: someone who enters your property with permission and for your reasons. You have a duty to inspect your property for hidden defects, repair known hazards and warn of potential risks.
Guests at an open house are invitees. They are people you invite to enter the property for your purposes – specifically, to sell your home. As invitees, you owe your guests the highest standards of care. You must do all you reasonably can to prevent accidents and injuries to your guests. This duty of care involves inspecting your property before launching the open house, fixing any defects you notice and posting warnings if you believe guests might not notice a potential hazard.
Filing an Insurance Claim
After an open house guest sustains an injury on your property, he or she may contact your homeowners insurance company to request damage recovery. The guest may have to prove your liability to obtain an insurance settlement. This may include demonstrating to the insurer that you owed him or her a duty of care as an invited guest, breached this duty and thus caused or substantially contributed to the injury in question. Once the injured person files a claim, your insurance agent may contact you for more information about the incident.
If you have personal liability coverage, your homeowners insurance policy should cover a guest’s injuries that occurred on your property. You will not have to pay for the injured person’s medical bills or other damages out of pocket. You may, however, have to pay higher insurance premiums after the resolution of the claim. Most property-related accident cases settle successfully at the insurance level and do not continue onto the courtroom. An injured open house guest may, however, decide to file a personal injury lawsuit against you.
Combatting Civil Liability
If an injured open house guest brings a lawsuit against you for negligence, hire an attorney to represent your best interests. A legal advocate could help you minimize your liability for a guest’s accident or injuries. Your lawyer may be able to argue that you maintained the home or lawn as much as a reasonable person would have in similar circumstances. A defense such as the guest’s comparative fault may also be available to help your case. Hiring a lawyer to represent you could help you win a claim involving an injured open house guest; or at the very least, minimize your personal liability for the accident.