I was contacted and asked about "getting hurt on someone's property ". This area is a lot more complicated than most people seem to appreciate. Somehow most people get the impression just getting hurt on someone's property entitles them to be compensated. That couldn't be farther from the truth. The law doesn't make landowners liable without a showing of a defect in the property or negligence on permissible user's part. The news wire has quite a few property related stories that we can use so let's today explore those news stories.
Today we have several stories where people were injured on someone else's property. To know whether there is liability on anyone's part we would have to know many more facts. These stories don't provide enough facts to make that call.
An ISU student fell 10 or more feet into a ravine and is listed in critical condition. The 22-year-old man fell into a ravine south of campus. No better description was given. An earlier story provides more details. The young man was walking with friends near Arbor Street and Sheldon Avenue around 2:00 a.m. and it's alleged he may have attempted a short cut where he fell. The young man is Jeremy Croghan. I'm surprised there are no warnings or that he would not see warnings assuming any existed. As a lawyer my first thought is sobriety. Were you drinking? What were you doing there? Why cut across this area? Was there a path? Should you have been there? Were there warning signs? Why would the owner anticipate you walking across his property? Should the owner have anticipated you being there?
An apartment fire in Cedar Rapids killed one man. There is no indication how the fire started or whether the smoke detectors had working batteries. The man is Rodney Lee Noye. The Iowa State Fire Marshall's website is a part of the Iowa Department of Public Safety. Checking the available press releases did not provide any further details. An earlier story in the Register indicates the man was 35-years-old. Heavy fire was located in the kitchen. The big thing here is anticipation. Every owner knows apartment buildings can and do catch on fire. If there are smoke detectors do they work? Are they battery operated and if so when was the last time the batteries were checked. Also, read the lease and see whose responsibility was it to change the batteries? Is it a non-delegable duty on the part of the land owner?
In this news item it's reported a female driver and her passenger were injured after crashing into several cars and then into a house. The driver was 43-years-old and her passenger 48. The crash site is 2203 Lincoln Avenue in Des Moines and the time is just after 2:00 a.m. All vehicles damaged were parked in the driveway, meaning all collisions took place on the property. See also KCCI's story ‘2 Injured As Car Slams Into House'. KCCI has photographs. This accident is sort of a mixed up mess with two kinds of insurance probably getting involved. In this instance the homeowner's insurance company may be involved with repairing the house and then suing the driver and car's owner to recoup the costs of repair.
The roof of a pet store collapsed in January 7, 2010 when high winds and snow combined forces that exceeded the structures capacity. I didn't see where there is any personal injury but the contents of the pet store including the pets were probably destroyed to some degree. Insurance gets involved in rebuilding and in reimbursing the renter for the inventory that is destroyed. And no you don't get paid pain and suffering damages for injury to pets. But if you own a cat you might be able to get a CAT scan or a PET Scan. :-)
Let us not forget the story last week about the barn collapsing in Jones County and causing injury to a 12-year-old boy. Take a look at that post to see how I analyzed it.
And in Muscatine residents are worried about emissions coming from a grain plant. The question here is one about health and about the grain dust causing a nuisance. Of course everyone wants tort reform taking away the next guy's right to file a lawsuit, but when it hits home it's a totally different story. Melissa Regenniter from the Muscatine Journal has written a lengthy article about this sort of property damage news. This type of case involves the law of nuisance and trespass. What you do on your property shouldn't be interfering with your neighbors use of their property. Same goes for noise.
And from West Union, Iowa three businesses were destroyed by fire. A firewall kept the blaze from spreading further, allowing firefighters time to extinguish the blaze. The State Fire Marshall's office will need to conclude an investigation before the actual cause can be identified. But this type of property damage raises questions about construction practices (the fire walls) along with storage of materials and how those stored materials can contribute to a blaze. What started the fire may be a little different question.
And then of course there is what we do at our homes with fire pits. KCCI is doing a story about residential fire pits and is looking for people to talk on camera about their own fire pits. I might suggest fire pit owners not volunteer for this story without first concealing their true identities. First there is the civil liability issue, should someone become injured and then there is the criminal liability for being cited as a law violator. And then there is the risk of losing your homeowner's insurance coverage. I'll do more on this story later this week.
This could be a workers' compensation case or a premise liability case. KCCI reports that in Tabor, Iowa a man working on a manure spreader reached in to clear debris and got his hand caught in the drive shaft of the machine when his nylon jacket was grabbed and pulling his hand into the pinch point. You'll recall we did a story on pinch points last week. The worker is Michael Landon. Question is was someone else operating the manure spreader at the time? If not then it's probably a workers' compensation claim and no more. If so, then perhaps a third-party case exists. Many farmers carry a farm policy which is a more comprehensive insurance policy than what city folks are used to seeing.
A child playing with a cigarette lighter caused a house fire according to police as reported by KCCI on May 17, 2010. All residents of the house, including a man and four children escaped without injury. Batteries weren't working in the smoke detectors and those didn't sound the alarm. Perhaps we all need to check our smoke detector batteries. Homeowner's insurance will be involved with repairing or rebuilding the home. And then there are the questions about supervision of the child and the securing of cigarette lighters so children don't get to them. A child's curiosity is pretty predictable.
Let's recap what we learned today. So in each of these instances when is the homeowner liable? Either there has to be a "defect" in the property itself or someone with permission to be there has to do something negligent to cause an injury. Just being on someone's property and getting hurt isn't enough for the insurance to cover you under the liability portion of the policy. The medical payments section, which normally has very low limits of coverage, will pay for related medical expense without regard to defects or negligence.