Could your home injure others?

Could your home injure others?

Could your home injure others? 
Roll out the welcome mat - but what if someone trips on it?

Have you ever thought about the visitors that come to your house? That they may slip on steps, trip over that stray garden hose or kids toy, or even fall down the hole you'd dug earlier to plant the new tree?

Maybe they just happened to be underneath the ceiling that suddenly gave way, or flicked that switch and received an electric shock?

Perhaps they stayed for dinner, and that piece of chicken was just not cooked for long enough?

"... you might end up facing a lawsuit ..."

Your home has the potential to injure guests as well as yourself. Falling downstairs has been known to cause very serious injuries such as brain injury or quadriplegia. Injuries as severe as these could mean constant medical care and a loss of potential earnings. If this happens to someone outside your immediate family, they might sue you for such losses.

We were recently reminded of this in the NSW Court of Appeal decision of Stenning v Sanig NSWCA 214, when the trial judge's decision was upheld after the Respondent (visitor) successfully proved there was a breach of duty of care owed to them by the Appellant (the homeowner).

Sanig was a regular visitor to Mr Stenning and was assisting him with his ailing health.

Mr Stenning had previously installed a set of three steps made from "Caesarstone" on a path leading from his home to the street, which also included a handrail. He had even slipped on the steps several months before after installing them. While he took some remedial action by placing squares of carpet in the middle of the steps, they left small gaps at either side of the steps.

On the day of the accident, Sanig was leaving the Appellant's property after it had been raining heavily. She was aware that the steps became slippery and deliberately intended to avoid using them, instead opting to step from the path on to the grass adjacent. She did not utilise the handrail.

As she stepped out onto the grass, she inadvertently placed her foot on the wet Caesarstone step, slipped and suffered personal injury.

 "... he was found to have breached his duty of care ..."

When the matter first went to Court, Sanig had been successful in establishing that the Caesarstone used for the steps was unsuitable as it was too slippery, particularly when wet. The Court found that the remedial measures taken by Stenning were not sufficient and he was found to have breached his duty of care. This meant he was responsible for all her injuries and the resultant loss of income including her future ongoing care.

Stenning appealed but was unsuccessful, except for a reduction in damages by 15% and the award for future care was reduced by approximately $100,000.

That is all well and good, but it was still a lot of money that the property owner was responsible for.

 "... these covers typically provide up to $30,000,000 cover ..."

The good news is that if you insure your home, you are likely to have cover in the policy for Legal Liability, which would defend you against such claims. These covers typically provide up to $30,000,000 cover. In fact, if you also insure your Contents, it covers you anywhere in Australia for legal liability caused away from home. However, this cover does vary from insurer to Insurer, so check the extent of cover. For instance, one of the exclusions is it does not cover claims relating to business activities.

All home owners should take the time to review their home and contents insurance arrangements to ensure that they have sufficient public liability insurance in place.

 "... manage the risks in your own home ..."

Then there is simply the need to manage the risks in your own home. It is important to fix up or repair any potential causes of loss including that broken front step, that broken pathway. Remember inadequate makeshift measures that are used to address a foreseeable risk of injury can lead to a finding of negligence as we saw in Stenning v Sanig.

Also, home owners in Queensland who have people attend their property to carry out work (such as tradespeople, gardeners, cleaners, carers or baby sitters) could consider obtaining a Household Workers' Insurance Policy from WorkCover Queensland at a cost of only $50 for two years.

General Advice Warning: This advice is general and does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider whether the advice is appropriate for you and your personal circumstances. Before you make any decision about whether to acquire a certain product, you should obtain and read the relevant product disclosure statement.

Robert Cooper, CPR Insurance Services

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