Accidents at home are more common than you might think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year more than 10 million people suffer injuries on residential properties serious enough to require visits to the emergency room. Residential injuries account for more than 6 million homeowner insurance claims each year.
Common causes of homeowner insurance claims include:
Slip and falls are the most frequent cause of injuries in the home. Homeowners, their children, contractors, and social guests are among those most often injured in home accidents. These injuries include falling from ladders and while on staircases, slipping on spilled drinks or oil left on garage floors, running through clear glass doors, and more.
Drug overdose is a frequent cause of injuries to children and teenagers. Narcotic medications left in medicine cabinets are often too easily accessible by visiting children and teenage friends. Ingesting prescribed medications can lead to overdosing and death.
Food poisoning can happen to anyone at any time. When guests eat food causing allergic reactions, they can suffocate. Children can suffocate on plastics and when they eat foreign objects. If a person suffers an injury caused by food, that person has a right to compensation for their medical bills and pain and suffering.
Drowning can occur when guests become intoxicated while swimming or when falling asleep lounging in pools. Unsupervised children can fall into pools and drown in small amounts of water, even in bathtubs and sinks.
Electrical burns and shocks happen when wiring ages and insulation wears thin. Improperly grounded electrical sockets can cause electrocution. Boiling water and stovetops can also result in second- and third-degree burns. Space heaters left too close to flammable materials can easily ignite a fire.
Cuts happen all the time. Jagged can lids can cut skin, as can cutlery. Broken or splintered furniture and flooring, and exposed nails are also culprits.
Dog attacks are normally unintended. Loose dogs can attack guests, contractors, postal workers, and others on the homeowner’s property. Large dogs can unintentionally knock down elderly guests and children, causing injury.
Liability for Home Injuries
The law related to homeowners and their liability to injured guests can be a bit confusing. That’s because the law classifies family members, social visitors, and friends as licensees, while classifying business people like contractors, landscapers, postal workers, and others on the property to conduct business as invitees.
Whether you’re an invitee or a licensee, you still have a right to feel safe while on a homeowner’s property. The law requires a homeowner to exercise ordinary care towards all guests. The courts define ordinary care to mean the homeowner must do everything reasonably possible to protect guests from dangerous acts, omissions or conditions that could lead to injury.
Example of Lack of Ordinary Care
You have a severe allergy to peanuts and peanut products. You told your friend’s mother about your allergy. Within minutes after eating the lunch she prepared for you and several other guests, you began to choke. You went into anaphylactic shock, your throat closed and you could hardly breathe. After rushing to the emergency room, you learned you had an allergic reaction to peanuts. Your friend’s mother later admitted she inadvertently cooked your meal in peanut oil.
In this case, your friend’s mother failed to exercise ordinary care. That failure, referred to as the mother’s negligence, resulted in your injury. She breached (violated) of her duty (obligation) of ordinary care.
That breach entitles you to compensation for your damages. Damages include your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses for medications, bandages, etc., lost wages, and pain and suffering (emotional distress).
If while on a homeowner’s property, you’re hurt and want to file an injury claim, you first have to prove the homeowner breached her duty of ordinary care, and the breach was the direct and proximate (legally acceptable) cause of your damages. Courts refer to this as your burden of proof. Meeting your burden of proof requires evidence. The more credible your evidence, the stronger your claim.
Gathering Evidence to Support Your Claim
Here’s how to acquire the evidence you need:
Notify the homeowner
Tell the homeowner you’re injured. In many cases your injury will be clear and an explanation isn’t necessary. If in the presence of the homeowner, you reached down to pet the family dog and the dog suddenly bit you, your injury is clear. If the bite is deep enough, ask the homeowner to dial 911 and request an ambulance. For most dog bites, it’s a good idea to get treatment at the emergency room for rabies and other transferrable bacterial infections.
Ask the homeowner for the name of her homeowner’s insurance company. Although you may feel uncomfortable asking a friend for her insurance company’s name, if you don’t, you may end up having to pay for your own medical bills, prescriptions, the costs of repeated doctor’s visits, etc.
Take pictures and video
Grab that cell phone! When it comes to homeowner insurance claims, it’s true a picture is worth a thousand words. Turn on the date and time stamp function and start recording proof of the injury’s cause. Visual evidence is compelling. It usually leaves little for interpretation. Always remember you’re acquiring evidence to confirm the homeowner’s negligence and its link to your injuries.
For example, you were in your girlfriend’s home and while walking down the wrought iron stairs, the banister broke away from its fittings. As it did, you tumbled down several flights of stairs, injuring your back and cutting your arm on the iron bars. If you can, take out your cell phone and start taking photographs of the stairs, focusing on the place where the banister broke away from its fittings.
Use the video function to take a panoramic view of the stairs in relation to the rest of the home. Include pictures of your injuries. Record any statements the homeowner gives for the reason the banister broke away. Be sure to save everything you recorded so you can make copies for the insurance company.
Talk to witnesses
Witnesses can provide very strong evidence. When it comes to home injuries, it’s usually difficult to find independent witnesses. You may have to rely on the statements of family and friends. Depending on your relationship with the homeowner, he may or may not agree to serve as a witness.
The same goes for family members. It may be difficult to convince them to give a statement against their own interest. You may have to rely on whoever else was present when you fell, including friends, or even contractors there for business reasons.
Ask the witnesses to write down what they saw, including the specifics of how you were injured. Any available paper will do. The more detailed the statements, the better. It’s not necessary to notarize statements or have witnesses swear to them. That only becomes an issue if the insurance company questions their authenticity, which rarely happens.
Get your medical records
Without medical records, you’ll have a difficult time linking your injuries to the homeowner’s negligence. You must show his negligence was the direct and proximate cause of your injuries, and prove the specific nature of those injuries.
Let’s say you were in your friend’s garage. Suddenly you slipped and fell, breaking several ribs. When you looked down, you realized you slipped on oil that apparently leaked from your friend’s car. When your friend brings you to the emergency room, the admitting nurse will ask what caused your injuries.
It’s important to say exactly what happened. You must tell the admitting nurse you fell on oil in your friend’s garage. The nurse will enter that information into your admitting chart. That way the doctor knows where and how you were hurt. The doctor will incorporate that information into his diagnosis of your injury, prognosis for your recovery, and your required treatment regime.
The insurance company needs this kind of information to conclude its insured (the homeowner) was negligent and therefore liable for your damages. After you’ve completed treatment, request copies of all your medical records. You’ll need them to verify your settlement demand.
Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim
As soon as possible after your injury, contact the homeowner’s insurance company. Explain what happened and say you’d like to discuss your claim with a claims adjuster. She’ll assign a claim number. That claim number is your reference to all future communications with the insurance company.
Within a week or so after you report your injury, the claims adjuster will contact you. It’s the adjuster’s job to investigate the claim and determine whether her insured was negligent. It’s likely the adjuster already spoke with the homeowner and has his version of events.
Like most insurance companies, she’ll look for any reason to deny your claim. That’s why it’s so important to have your evidence in good order and copies available to give her.
Offer to send the adjuster copies of your supporting documents, including your medical records and bills, receipts for out-of-pocket expenses, and a letter verifying your lost wages. Also offer to send her your evidence, including witness statements, photographs and videos. The adjuster probably won’t start negotiating until you finish treatment and have your total damages. That’s normal.
Contributory and Comparative Negligence
Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia follow the contributory negligence rule. This means if you’re even partially responsible for your injury, you’ll receive no compensation for your claim.
The remaining states follow the comparative negligence rule. In comparative negligence states, your percentage of responsibility for your injury reduces the compensation amount.
For example, a dog owner repeatedly warned you to stop taunting her dog. You ignored her warnings and the dog bit you, severing tendons in your hand. The total amount of your damages was $20,000. The insurance company determined you were 50 percent responsible for the dog bite due to your continued taunts, and therefore only offered you $10,000 to settle your claim.
Hiring an Attorney
If your injuries are soft tissue injuries like minor cuts and bruises, sprains, or minor burns, you can probably handle your own claim. If your injuries are the more serious hard injuries such as broken bones, second- or third-degree burns, scarring, head trauma, or any permanent injury, you need the services of an experienced personal injury attorney.
In hard injury cases, insurance companies do everything they can to convince you to accept a settlement much lower than your injury deserves. Personal injury attorneys know this. Using legal tactics like subpoeanas and depositions, they can almost always settle a case for a much higher amount. They can also file a lawsuit if the insurance company is uncooperative.
How Much is Your Injury Claim Worth?
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Visitor Questions on Slip and Falls
Compensation for injury doing lawn care? I was doing lawn care for someone at a rental property. I was on a steep bank that I had done one time before and was not wanting to really do again, but he insisted I do it. I ran into a yellow jacket nest and was trying to not get stung as I am... Read More >>
What if the homeowner is dead? On 9/9/2015 my 20yr old son slipped and fell bending his back over the side of the tub. There were no non-stick things on the tub or floor, no rugs on the slippery tile. He injured his back severely. The problem is, this happened in my mother’s house where we were staying and she passed away on... Read More >>
Face and body injury from fall on driveway… Monday I was returning from the grocery store with both arms holding my purchases. I walked up the steep driveway which has a 2″ drop. It was dark outside and there were no outside lights on. I fell and hurt myself. A friend helped me with ice packs for my face. I hit the bridge... Read More >>
I was chasing / playing with my daughter and broke my ankle… At my home, where I rent, I was playing / chasing after my daughter and broke my ankle, dislocated it, and tore ligaments. The carport area had some condensation and was slippery, and as I fell my ankle just snapped. Would something like this be covered under my landlord’s home owners insurance? If so, can... Read More >>
Homeowner liability for neighbor who entered property uninvited? I received a letter from my neighbor saying that she suffered an injury on my property 2 months ago. According to this women, she was walking in front of my home and my parents’ dog followed her, so she picked up the dog and came onto my property to return the dog. She said she... Read More >>
Fell off ladder while replacing a smoke detector in rental home… While trying to replace a defective smoke detector in a house I am renting, I fell off a ladder and fractured both my ankle and Tibular plateau, requiring 3 surgeries and at least 3 months lost wages. I was replacing the smoke detector on behalf of the landlord, who needed to pass a local fire... Read More >>
Neighbor’s guest from abroad fell riding a bike in my driveway… A 72 year old guest was visiting my friend’s home (her mom) from a foreign country with no healthcare insurance. She decided to get on a bicycle without permission or guidance in my garage and lost control of the bike. The bike, with her on it, headed out of control down the driveway towards the... Read More >>
Should I file an additional claim? I was at a friend’s house, walking through the dining room toward the living room. The living room was one step lower, which I did not know. I turned to look at something, stepped forward, and missed the step down. I landed on my left leg which rotated 180 degrees to the left, breaking my... Read More >>
Guest walked into glass door… I have a vacation rental property. Two days after checking in, my guest walked into the sliding glass door, fell on the floor and broke his arm. He was alone and there were no witnesses, but his wife showed up shortly and called 911. When I arrived at the condo the glass door was open... Read More >>
Liability for fall on home’s wet, leaf-covered front steps? I was going to clean someone’s house (a personal favor, not a regular job). It was raining that day. As I was walking up the front steps, I fell. I noticed leaves on the steps as I was brushing myself off. I spoke to the oldest son (he is 26), since the homeowners were not... Read More >>
Who is liable for injuries due to neighbor’s “over the top” light display? We live in an otherwise quiet neighborhood in a small rural California city. Last year new neighbors moved in across the street at the entrance to our cul-de-sac. They have an “over the top” holiday light display, synchronized to music which is broadcast over loudspeakers and radio. It causes traffic to back up into the... Read More >>
Neighbor’s partygoer injured himself while on my lot… My next door neighbor had a party and we have adjoining open lots. An attendee to my neighbor’s party hurt himself while he wandered onto my property. I did not invite him onto my property nor did I extend the use of my property. Am I liable for his injuries even though he was on... Read More >>
Child has concussion after trip and fall on faulty porch steps… We rent a single family home in North Carolina. The front, back and side porches are all wooden, and in very weathered condition. The boards are warped, pulling away from the frame, even on steps, and nails are working their way out as boards warp. Nails are sticking out, head first in several locations. The... Read More >>
Slipped on dog pee at friend’s home… I was staying at my friend’s home out of state when I was injured. She had a sixteen year old dog and there were puppy pads outside the room where I was sleeping. The dog missed the puppy pad and peed on the floor. I was walking out of the room and slipped on the... Read More >>
Does Homeowner’s Insurance cover renting a room in the landlord’s home? On Thanksgiving Day I was in the backyard of a home in Van Nuys, CA where I rent a room. The homeowner’s dog slammed into me and knocked me over, causing me to fall backwards and brace my fall with my hand. I sustained a complicated fracture of my wrist and required surgery to insert... Read More >>
Liability for my son’s broken arm playing volleyball at a friend’s house? My son was invited to a party at a friend’s house. At this house, the parents had set up a volleyball court on grass. My son and another girl collided playing volleyball. The girl fell on my son’s arm and broke two bones. The injury happened on a Friday night, so we had no choice... Read More >>
My leg was severely cut at a party because of a broken glass table… I was standing with my brother at the over-crowed after party for a premiere, and all of a sudden I felt some horrible pressure on my leg. We looked down and there was a puddle of my own blood. Someone had fallen behind me, broke a small table (like black ice glass table that can... Read More >>
Traumatic head injury while at a friend’s home… My 8 year old son went to a birthday party for laser tag, then back to the friend’s home for cake. When they returned, the parents let the children ride bikes and set up ramps for jumps. My son, a beginning rider, rode down a slight decline and attempted the jump. He came off the... Read More >>
“Bounce House” Injuries… I rented a “bounce house” for kids to play in at my graduation party. It had began to rain so I told everyone to get out. Then my mother told them the same. A kid had broken his wrist in the house. His mother was at the party and now she is going to sue... Read More >>
Homeowners Insurance Not Covering Medical Bills? In March of this year my best friend and I were at her sister’s house babysitting their daughter in Wisconsin. The parents arrived home and we spent a couple of hours socializing. At around midnight we prepared to leave and exited out the back door. It was cold and a light snow had fallen earlier... Read More >>
Torn Rotator Cuff from Fall on Landlord’s Steps… I had written and called my landlord several times regarding a broken front step off her front porch and asked her to replace it. She said she would, later. A few months later I was coming out the front door and when I stepped down on the broken step carefully, it still caused me to... Read More >>
Finger Amputation Caused by Log Splitter… My step son was helping his friend split wood on his friend’s mother’s property for their house. His friend hit the release button on the log splitter too soon causing my stepson to loose the upper portion of his right hand middle finger. He has no insurance. It was an accident but who is responsible... Read More >>
Will my neighbor’s homeowners insurance cover my son’s injuries? My 22 year old son was playing football with a neighbor’s kid at a school football field (for fun, not a real game). The neighbor’s son is 16. My son injured his shoulder and now requires surgery. My question is, will my son’s medical expenses be covered under my neighbor’s homeowners insurance policy since his... Read More >>
My Son Was Assaulted at a Party… My son was at a party and got punched and thrown in the pool. He was also verbally abused and his phone got smashed. The homeowners were not home at the time but their son was. After my son was thrown in the pool he left the party by himself. He was followed by three... Read More >>
Broken Heel from Stepping in a Hole… I was at a friend’s house. I went outside to the back to look at something. It was night and there was no light. I stepped off the porch and went into a deep hole and broke my heel (calcaneus fracture). This happened in August 2010 and I had surgery in October 2010. I am... Read More >>
Neighbor Injured Himself While Helping Me… I had gotten in a car accident (for which I was at fault), right around the corner from my home. My bumper was still hanging on. I called my neighbor to bring a crescent wrench to help unscrew it. My car’s damage was just the bumper being partially ripped off. It was perfectly drivable, except... Read More >>
Obese woman breaks chair and is injured… An obese woman (300+lbs) came for a visit to my home and she sat on a chair for about 40mins. She got up to get something and sat down back down in the same chair by kind of backing/falling into it. The chair broke and she landed sitting up very hard on her rump. She... Read More >>
Achilles Tendon Personal Injury Case… My wife was visiting a neighbor when a boat he had leaning against his house blew over, hitting her in the leg. It hit her at the achilles tendon area and split her ankle wide open. I rushed her to the local clinic but they could not provide care. I then took her to the... Read More >>
Will Workers Comp Pay for the Replacement Worker I Hired? I fell on a soaker hose left wrapped around bushes in February 2009 and I had to go to the emergency room. Since then I have had many tests. I have been on pain and muscle relaxers. I had 4 doctors and 4 different diagnoses: 1. Bruised bone/X-ray 2. Torn tendon/MRI 3. Muscle spasms from... Read More >>