Halloween Hazards and Premises Liability: What You Need to Know
Trick-or-treating is a favorite activity for many Austin kids each Halloween. As children, teenagers, and their families go door-to-door asking for treats this October 31st, however, it’s important to make sure that your home is fully prepared for visitors. Under premises liability laws, property owners have a duty to ensure that their home is relatively hazard-free for invited guests – and that often includes the area around your front walkway and porch.
At the Law Offices of Vic Feazell, P.C., we hope that you and your family have a safe Halloween this year. As premises liability attorneys, we can help you navigate the process of filing a claim against a negligent property owner if your child is hurt. By keeping a few safety considerations in mind at your own home, you may also be able to prevent a dangerous accident from taking place and protect children from unfortunate injuries.
What Is a Homeowner’s Responsibility to Trick-or-Treaters?
Homeowners should keep their premises reasonably safe for guests, but not everyone who visits your property is entitled to the same consideration. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to give trespassers the same rights as someone shopping at the grocery store. That’s why there are different categories of visitors in premises liability law, and these categories matter when determining a landlord’s financial responsibility for injuries.
The 3 main categories of visitors are as follows:
- Invitee: When you openly invite visitors to your property, they may be classified as invitees if they are primarily invited for your benefit. A good example of an invitee is a shopper in a store.
- Licensee: Licensees are also invited to your premises, but the key difference between a licensee and an invitee is that the former is there for their own purpose. When you visit a friend’s house for a social visit and no other reason, you are there as a licensee.
- Trespasser: A trespasser has not been invited to your property at all, and in many cases, their visit may be an active violation of the law.
During Halloween, trick-or-treating visitors will most likely be classified as “licensees,” as long as your lights are on and your front walkway indicates that you are welcoming guests. If your house is pitch black and you have signs turning trick-or-treaters away, they may be classified as trespassers instead.
While homeowners have the greatest level of responsibility towards invitees, they must also exercise some degree of caution towards licensees. Even if you are not welcoming any visitors this Halloween, you may still owe tiny trespassers a duty of care: You must be careful to hide any “attractive nuisances” that could reasonably entice small children and present a serious threat to their safety.
Defining the Duty of Care
As a property owner on Halloween, you are expected to warn licensees about any dangerous conditions that they could not reasonably expect. This could include an unfriendly dog lurking behind the fence gate, or hidden trip hazards around your lawn.
Here are a few common Halloween hazards to keep in mind:
- Trip-and-fall hazards: Take a minute to scan your front yard and porch for any hidden trip hazards, whether that means testing your front steps for stability or cleaning up toys and tools around the yard.
- Dog bites: Even if your dog is an angel all year round, the sights and sounds of Halloween can prompt them to act in unpredictable ways. To prevent a dog bite injury, make sure that your pup is kept behind closed doors during prime trick-or-treating hours. If you keep Fido in the yard, post signs about your dog in front area of the house, and securely fasten all fence gates.
- Fire hazards: Do you love seeing the flickering flame of a candle inside your festive Jack-o-Lanterns? Opt for an LED light instead to keep kids safe. Children do not always watch their movements as carefully as adults, and they may be wearing flammable costumes during Halloween.
- Scare risks: Halloween may be a celebration of all things spooky, but you never know how neighboring children will react to pranks and “scares.” To prevent unwanted asthma attacks and epileptic seizures, your strobe lights and noise-making machines should be kept safely away during the holiday. Remember: Children with chronic conditions deserve to have a fun night, too!
- Food allergies: Never, ever give out unwrapped treats to children, no matter how good your brownies might be. If the child suffers from an allergic reaction or a case of food poisoning, you could be held legally responsible for their injuries.
Do you have more questions for us about a premises liability claim? Call the Law Offices of Vic Feazell, P.C. at (512) 596-3674 to speak with a member of our legal team.