October 23, 2017
Halloween stands out among other American holidays as the one day every year people collectively open up their property to strangers.
On family-centered holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving, you might shovel the sidewalk to make sure your great aunt doesn’t slip on the ice on her way inside. You might make sure your porchlight still works and put a rug down in your foyer so people can wipe the snow from their boots. Hazards that crop up around family get-togethers can be dangerous but are fairly predictable and easy to accommodate.
But Halloween presents different dangers. Not only are you responsible for maintaining your sidewalk or porch, but you also have to consider what hazards exist throughout your entire yard. You also have to consider what would be hazardous for a whole host of strangers of different ages and mobility. From a three-year-old child whose superhero mask makes it hard to see to a wheelchair-bound preteen, there are plenty of variables you have to consider when inviting people to your front door for a handful of Halloween candy.
Preparing Your Yard
One could argue that your biggest liability on Halloween is your yard. Even if you don’t participate in your neighborhood’s trick-or-treat event, children may still run across your property.
Premises liability law has protections for trespassers if the homeowner expects them or leaves hazards unattended on purpose to harm them. If you’re sitting out this Halloween, it’s still a good idea to make sure your lawn is hazard-free to protect yourself as much as others.
First, make sure your lawn has been mowed recently. It’s easier for people to see holes or uneven patches if the grass is short. Next, fill in holes or mark them clearly so people can avoid them.
The near universal sign for not participating in Halloween is having your lights off. This unfortunately presents a hazard for anyone who traipses across your lawn. Your property should be well lit so people can see where they’re going, even if you choose to keep your candy to yourself this year. Consider putting a sign up saying that you’re not participating and leaving the lights on so people can move across your property safely. If you’re bent on keeping your lights off, consider putting a sign where people are most likely to attempt to cross your yard to warn them of any hazards they may encounter.
Yards are also particularly dangerous because many people spread Halloween decorations across their lawn. Something like a large, inflatable ghost may not seem dangerous if it’s well-lit and easy to see, but any cords running to such a decoration might create a trip hazard.
Preparing Your Sidewalk or Other Walkways
Depending on where you live, the sidewalk outside your property may or may not be your responsibility.
For example, if you rent an apartment and use one sidewalk with multiple other residents, it’s likely that the property owner is responsible for making sure the sidewalk is safe for use, not you.
However, if you own your own property and have a driveway or a walkway leading to your front door, you’re likely responsible for those. Even if you rent, you may be responsible, not the property owner, if you rent an entire house and have exclusive use of the driveway or walkway. Double-check your lease to see if you’re responsible for the property you’re renting or if liability still resides with the property owner.
Things get more complicated if your property lies adjacent to a city sidewalk. Who’s responsible: local government or you? If you rent, could the property owner or manager be responsible as well?
Typically, the city is responsible for repairing public sidewalks, but not necessarily for clearing them. They also usually only claim responsibility if they’ve been made aware that the sidewalk needs to be repaired in the first place. If your property runs up against a dangerous sidewalk, you should alert the city of the hazard well in advance of Halloween so the city has time to repair it.
Let’s say you own your property, though, and have a walkway that’s uneven. It’s important to either fix the hazard or warn trick-or-treaters as they approach your house of the hazard. If you’re not participating in trick-or-treat, consider putting up a sign to warn people who approach the house regardless.
Preparing Your Doorstep or Porch
Perhaps the biggest hazard around a person’s doorstep or front porch is a spill of some kind. Many people decorate their front porch or doorstep with carved pumpkins and other Halloween decorations that wouldn’t be easily seen if they were in the yard. You may decide to sit on your front porch with a soda and hand out candy personally. If a damaged pumpkin or drink spills on your doorstep, make sure to clean up the mess as soon as possible. If for some reason you can’t clean it up, warn approaching trick-or-treaters of the mess so they can stay clear of it.
A Note About Liability
Halloween is different from most occasions in which you invite people to your property because most trick-or-treaters will be children. If a child is injured on your property, it may be harder to prove that your negligence didn’t contribute to their injury because they’re a child. For example, even if you have a sign posted warning of a hazard, the child might not be able to read. If you believe everyone knows that having your lights off means you’re not participating, then you’re not considering the excitable child running across people’s lawns in search of candy.
That’s why you have to be extra careful on Halloween and try to anticipate any hazards that reasonable adults may know to avoid, but children may not.
However, as with most premises liability cases, you’ll only be held responsible if it can be proven that you either knew or should have known about a hazard. A person injured on your property has to prove that you were negligent in order to hold you responsible. It’s the “should have known” part of negligence that gets complicated and is as difficult to establish as it is to refute.
Before Halloween, make sure your homeowner’s insurance is up to date and examine it to see exactly what kind of accidents you might be covered for.
Help from an Indiana Personal Injury Attorney
Hopefully, you’ll prepare your property so everyone who visits your home has a safe and happy Halloween. However, others might not be so careful. If you or your child is injured while trick-or-treating, an Indiana personal injury attorney can help. Call Hensley Legal Group today or contact us online for a free consultation.