Am I liable for accidents that occur on my private property?
As a homeowner, you can be held liable for accidents that occur on your property, when your actions (or failure to take action) rise to the level of negligence with respect to visitors to your property.
Simply put, you owe a certain duty of care to people who are on your property, but what you're required to do -- and what you'll be held legally responsible for -- will vary depending on the circumstances.
Who was injured? Was it a trespasser or a social guest? Were they injured because of a hazard you knew about or could reasonably be expected to have known about? Did you warn the person of the danger? Were there signs on the property that warned of the danger? These factors and many more will come into play, as will the particular laws in place in your state, to determine the potential liability of a homeowner when someone is injured on their property.
That's the (potential) bad news. The good news is that, when someone is injured on your property, in most cases the liability provision of your homeowners' insurance policy will kick in and over you if the injured person files a personal injury lawsuit against you, or if they file a "third party claim" with your insurance carrier.
The insurance company will handle the claim or lawsuit on your behalf, including choosing and hiring a lawyer if necessary, and will pay the injured person for all losses stemming from the accident, usually through a negotiated settlement.
In most cases when someone is injured because of an accident -- in a slip and fall, for example -- you can rest assured that the incident will be covered under your homeowners' policy. But your policy will only shield you from personal liability up to the limits of your liability coverage.
So, if you have $100,000 in liability coverage, and the injured person's damages add up to more than $100,000, you could be personally on the hook for any amount over that. Although if you have an "umbrella" provision in your homeowner's policy, that coverage may also kick in and make up the difference between the liability limits and the injured person's total damages.
by: David Goguen, J.D.