What Happens if Someone Is Injured on My Property During an Open House?

10 Oct

If your home is on the market there is a very good chance your agent (or yourself if you are selling it by owner) will want to host an open house. This is a great way to show your home to potential buyers and hopefully drum up an interested buyer (or buyers) who makes an offer on it. 

However, if a visitor is injured while attending your open house you could end up responsible for their medical bills or even worse, at the wrong end of a lawsuit. According to the laws of most states, you can be held liable for a guest’s injuries if you could have taken reasonable actions to prevent the accident. 

Your Responsibilities as a Property Owner

It is always better to be proactive and prevent an injury on your property than to try to deal with the aftermath of someone being hurt. Legally, you are responsible for preventing injuries at your home. The majority of states have premise liability laws on the books that hold all property owners to certain standards regarding the care and maintenance of their home.

Your responsibilities will vary depending on who enters your property:

  • Trespassers: A person who enters your property without your permission has no expectation of care of the property or are they owed any duties of care. In most cases, you cannot be held liable for injuries that a trespasser suffers. This can vary by state so check your state laws and make sure that if you have a property that is not occupied regularly that it is properly secured to prevent trespassers. 
  • Invitee: This is a person that enters your property with your permission and are there at your request. This can include people such as real estate agents, repair people, guests at a party you are hosting and even people that show up for an open house. With these people you have a duty to inspect your property before they arrive and repair any known hazards and warn them of any potential risks they may encounter. 

Since you are inviting these people to your home you owe them the highest standard of care to keep them safe. You should do everything you can to help prevent accidents and injuries to your guests. You should fully inspect your home before an open house looking for tripping hazards or other issues that could cause injuries. Fix any defects to your home and if you cannot repair it before the open house, post warnings about any potential hazards. 

What Happens if Someone is Injured During an Open House

If a person is injured during an open house, they will most likely contact your homeowners insurance company to cover their expenses related to the injury. In most cases, the injured person will have to prove your liability in order to make a claim on your insurance. 

As an example, you are not responsible if a guest trips over their own untied shoelaces. On the other hand, if there is a loose board on a step, uneven pavement or a broken or missing handrail on stairs that contributed to the accident you will most likely be found at fault and your insurance company will have to cover the claim. After the injured person has made a claim, your insurance company will contact you to get your side of the story and investigate the claim. 

Almost all homeowners insurance policies come with personal liability coverage that will cover medical bills, lost wages and other expenses related to the injury up to your coverage limits. If your insurance company and the injured guest are unable to come to a settlement amount you could end up being sued for damages, but in most cases the insurer will settle with the injured person.

While your insurance policy will cover the expenses related to the injury, it will do so only up to your coverage limits. Most standard homeowner policies come with a minimum of $100,000 in liability coverage which can be upped for an additional premium. Most industry experts recommend carrying at least $300,000 to $500,000 in liability coverage.

Medical bills can quickly spiral out of control and $100,000 can be eaten up pretty fast. If the injuries end up costing more than your coverage limits you will be on the hook for any additional costs which can put all of your assets at risk. 

Finally, if the injured person decides to sue, your insurance company will cover the cost of your defense as well as any settlements or judgements up to your coverage limits. if the costs of a settlement or judgement exceed your coverage limits you will have to pay off the balance. 

Consider an Umbrella Policy

If you are putting your home on the market (or have parties and guests over on a regular basis) you may want to consider an umbrella policy to make sure you are fully covered. Umbrella polices up your liability coverage and are sold in $1million increments. They kick in when the coverage levels of your homeowner policies are exceeded.

Umbrella policies are very affordable, ranging from about $150 to $300 a year for a $1million in coverage. 

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