Homeowner Liability for Injuries: How to Win Your Insurance Claim

Who pays if you’re hurt in someone else’s home or yard? Learn how to demand fair injury compensation from a homeowner policy or renter’s insurance.

Accidents at home are more common than you might think.

Each year millions of Americans suffer injuries on residential properties serious enough to require visits to the emergency room.

The high number of residential injuries includes nearly a million non-fatal fall injuries and over 300,000 dog bites.¹

If you or your child are injured on someone else’s property or in their home, or you’ve been damaged by a neighbor’s negligence, you have the right to seek compensation from the resident’s homeowner or renter insurance.

Common Residential Accidents and Injuries

Accidents happen in homes and yards every day. Here are some of the most common reasons for insurance liability claims:

Dog bites: More than a third of all homeowner liability claims are for dog bites and non-bite dog attacks. Dogs can bite or scratch guests, contractors, postal workers, and others on the homeowner’s property. Large dogs can unintentionally knock down elderly guests and children, causing injury.

Slip and falls: The most frequent cause of injuries in the home, slip and fall accidents can be caused by snow and ice, wet floors, damaged floors, rickety stairs, and other obstacles. Falls can result in fractures, especially to the wrist, arms and hip; head injuries; back and neck injuries; and serious knee injuries.

Falling trees: Your neighbor’s tree can fall on your house or car during wind, snow, or ice storms. It’s your neighbor’s responsibility to trim and maintain trees on their property. If the tree that wrecked your roof was a known hazard, you could file a liability claim against your neighbor’s insurance policy.

Intoxicated guests: Homeowners can be held responsible for harm caused by intoxicated guests. Many states have social host liability laws that apply when alcohol is served at parties or other social gatherings.

If your underage teen consumed alcohol at a friend’s house and became ill or injured, or was in a car accident, the friend’s parents may be financially responsible, even if they weren’t at home when the kids decided to party.

Pools: Homeowners are responsible for maintaining a safe pool area, including decks, steps, diving boards, and other features. Many communities require outdoor pools to be fenced with secure gates. The homeowner may be responsible for injuries caused by falling, drowning, or unsafe use of pool chemicals.

Trampolines: Just as with swimming pools, homeowners must take reasonable steps to secure trampolines, bouncy houses, and other outdoor recreational equipment that may be particularly enticing to children.

When Homeowner’s Insurance Will Pay

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 as invitees.

Whether you’re an invitee or a licensee, you still have a right to feel safe while on a homeowner’s property. Homeowners are legally required to exercise ordinary care towards all guests.

Ordinary care means the homeowner must do everything reasonably possible to protect guests from situations that could lead to injury.

Example: Homeowner responsible for medical emergency

Imagine you have a severe peanut allergy. You told your friend’s mother about your allergy. Within minutes after eating the lunch she prepared for you and several other guests, your throat began to swell closed, and you could hardly breathe.

You were taken by ambulance to the emergency room, where you were treated for a severe allergic reaction triggered by peanuts.

Your friend’s mother later admitted she inadvertently cooked part of your meal in peanut oil.

In this case, your friend’s mother failed to exercise ordinary care. Because she knew or should have known that using peanut oil could trigger a peanut allergy, her negligence resulted in your injury.

The mother’s negligence entitles you to compensation for your damages. Damages can include medical bills, out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, and emotional distress.

Homeowner Insurance Coverage Types

Most homeowner or renter insurance policies have two kinds of injury coverage:

  1. Med-pay coverage will usually cover medical bills and related expenses for covered injuries without having to prove the homeowner was to blame for your injuries. Med-pay coverage limits are generally less than $5,000 and will not pay for pain and suffering.
  2. Liability coverage limits are often much higher, typically around $100,000 and are meant to protect the homeowner from lawsuits filed by persons who are not members of the household. The insurance company will not pay liability claims unless there is proof the homeowner was to blame for the accident.

Some states have strict liability laws, meaning the homeowner is responsible for your injury even when they aren’t negligent. Most strict liability laws have to do with dog bites and attacks.

Not All Injuries Are Covered

In most cases, the homeowner’s insurance company won’t pay for claims that arise from:

  • Intentional acts, such as sexual abuse
  • Injuries caused by motor vehicles
  • Injuries to trespassers or those engaged in criminal acts
  • Injuries to members of the policy owner’s household

Gathering Evidence to Support Your Claim

As the injured person, the burden is on you to prove the homeowner is responsible for your injuries. Here’s how to collect the evidence you need:

Notify the homeowner: Tell the homeowner you’re injured and ask for their insurance company contact information. If necessary, explain to the homeowner how you were hurt.

In many cases, your injury will be obvious, and an explanation isn’t necessary. If in the presence of the homeowner, the family dog ran into the room and suddenly bit you, your injury is clear.

If you’re badly injured, ask someone to call 911. If the paramedics want to take you to the hospital, go with them. In any case, get a medical evaluation as soon as possible. Delaying medical treatment gives the insurance company an easy excuse to deny your claim.

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.

For example, imagine you were in a friend’s home, and while walking down the stairs, the banister broke away from the wall. As it did, you tumbled down several flights of stairs, injuring your back and splitting open the skin over your eyebrow.

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 the wall and the fallen banister laying across the steps.

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, any blood on the floor, and your bloody clothing. 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: Witness statements 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, they may not agree to give you a statement.

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 there when you fell.

If you find someone willing to help, ask the witnesses to write down what they saw, including the specifics of how you were injured. The more detailed the statements, the better. The witness should sign and date their statement.

Evidence of damages: Without medical records, you’ll have a difficult time linking your injuries to the homeowner’s negligence. You must show how their 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 fell, breaking several ribs. When you looked down, you realized you slipped on oil that 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 to cause your injury. 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 the written diagnosis of your injury, prognosis for your recovery, and your required treatment plan.

Copies of your medical records and bills are critical to the success of your claim. The records will help convince the insurance company of the homeowner’s liability for your injuries. Medical bills are the basis for calculating a fair settlement amount.

Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim

When you or your child have been injured in someone else’s home, the homeowner is probably a neighbor, relative, or friend. Don’t let that relationship stop you from getting fair compensation for your claim.

Most people aren’t intentionally negligent. For example, lots of home injuries happen because the property owner didn’t get around to making needed repairs. The homeowner probably feels terrible about what happened but can’t afford to pay your bills.

You shouldn’t have to take the financial hit, either. Fortunately, homeowner’s insurance will cover your medical bills and other damages caused by the homeowner’s negligence.

Homeowner’s Duty to Insurance Company

Homeowner’s insurance is required by the lender for any home with a mortgage. While folks who own their property free and clear don’t have to buy insurance, most homeowners want the security of insurance in case of a fire or other catastrophic event.

Insurance policies are legally binding contracts between the policy holder and the insurance company. Just like auto policies, home owner insurance policies require the property owner to notify them of accidents, and to cooperate with the insurance company’s investigation of the claim.

When the Property Owner Won’t Cooperate

Not every injury happens on the property of a trusted friend or family member.

Dog attacks can happen while you’re walking down a sidewalk, when a negligent homeowner fails to secure their dog. Whatever the circumstances of your injury, you have the right to seek compensation for your damages.

Take advantage of our free Notification Letter Template to advise the homeowner of your injury and ask for their insurance company information.

Unfortunately, there are some homeowners who won’t take responsibility for your injuries and refuse to share their homeowner’s insurance information, or deny they have insurance. They may be worried about an increase in premiums, or they just don’t care.

Rest assured, if a house is mortgaged, the owner has insurance. Don’t be fooled into thinking there is no money available to cover your injuries.

When a property owner refuses to disclose their homeowner’s insurance information, don’t hesitate to file a lawsuit against the property owner.

Dealing with the Insurance Company

As soon as possible after your injury, contact the homeowner’s insurance company. Explain what happened and that you intend to file a claim for compensation. If you’re still being treated for your injuries, you won’t be ready to discuss settlement.

We’ve made it easy with this sample Notification Letter to the Insurance Company.

Within a week or so after you report your injury, a claims adjuster will contact you. It’s the adjuster’s job to investigate the claim and determine whether the homeowner was negligent. It’s likely the adjuster already has the homeowner’s side of the story.

Like most insurance companies, the adjuster is trained to 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 support your claim.

Be prepared to send the adjuster copies of your medical records and bills, receipts for out-of-pocket expenses, and a letter verifying your lost wages. Also offer to send your witness statements, photographs and videos.

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 a pure or modified comparative negligence rule. In comparative negligence states, your percentage of responsibility for your injury reduces the compensation amount.

Example: Comparative Fault Reduces Dog Bite Claim

Your neighbor has repeatedly asked you to stop taunting her dog. You ignored her warnings and the dog bit you, severing tendons in your hand. Your medical treatment and lost wages add up to $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.

When to Hire 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.

Calculate your compensation by totaling your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages. Add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.

Send your demand letter with copies of all your supporting documentation.

Look like a pro with our sample Personal Injury Demand Letter.

If your injuries are hard injuries such as broken bones, severe burns, scarring, head trauma, or any permanent injury, you need the services of an experienced personal injury attorney.

Insurance companies are notorious for offering lower settlements to claimants who aren’t represented by an attorney. That’s if they haven’t already told you to take a hike.

Don’t take no for an answer. If you or your child have been badly injured in someone else’s home, you deserve fair compensation. It costs nothing to find out what a good personal injury attorney can do for you.

Homeowner Insurance Injury Claim Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>