Property Owners Owe Guests a Duty of Care
The holiday season is a time of joy, togetherness, and celebration. However, amidst the merrymaking, it's crucial to remember that as a property owner, you're responsible for the safety of your guests. This responsibility extends to every aspect of your property, including the holiday decorations you choose to display.
Potential Hazards Presented by Holiday Decorations
While certain decorations, like outdoor, color-changing lights, are reusable, other decorations are more holiday-specific. Below, we will discuss what decorations you should be most mindful of during specific holidays.
As the leaves change colors and the air turns crisp, Halloween marks the commencement of the fall holiday season and the beginning of the “spooky season.” Home and business owners who plan to decorate their property should be mindful of the following items:
Candles. Guests may be at risk of being burned if they have a draping costume or if a candle tips over while they are on your property.
Hanging decorations. Decorations that dangle or that are in the walkways can present a tripping hazard.
Fog machines. Fog machines, often used for special effects in events or parties, can inadvertently present hazards to guests that could potentially lead to a premises liability suit. The fog produced can significantly reduce visibility, increasing the risk of slips, trips, and falls, especially in unfamiliar or crowded environments. Also, some individuals may have allergic reactions or respiratory issues triggered by the artificial fog, leading to health concerns. The machine itself can become a hazard if improperly handled or left unattended, posing risks of burns from heated elements or electric shocks. Therefore, it's crucial for property owners to inform guests that they will be using such a machine and warn them about the potential lack of visibility.
Jack-o'-lanterns. One notable risk is fire; if a real candle is used inside the pumpkin, it could ignite nearby flammable materials or cause burns if touched by a guest. Additionally, poorly placed jack-o-lanterns can create a tripping hazard, especially if placed in high-traffic areas or where lighting is poor. Lastly, if the carved pumpkins begin to rot and aren't promptly removed, they could attract pests that turn the pumpkin to mush or cause a slip-and-fall hazard.
During Thanksgiving, you should also be aware of the risk of fire because of candles but also because of all the cooking as well as fall foliage-related decorations. Property owners can be liable for a person’s accidental burn injuries in certain cases.
In a premises liability suit, property owners can be held liable for cooking-related burn injuries that occur on their property under certain circumstances. For instance, if the property owner fails to maintain safe conditions in the kitchen, such as ensuring functioning smoke detectors, providing proper fire extinguishers, or repairing faulty stoves, they could be held responsible for resulting injuries.
Also, if the owner is aware of potential hazards, like a malfunctioning stove or oven, but doesn't warn guests or take steps to rectify the situation, they may be found negligent. It is also important to note that if the injury occurs because of the owner's actions, such as spilling hot liquids or putting decorations near a stove or candle where they can catch flame, they may be liable.
Going back to the decorations, be mindful of leaves or foliage decorations. These items can often be slippery and can lead to slip and fall incidents if they fall in walkways.
Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are also holidays that involve burning candles. Again, be mindful of candle placement and location to avoid candle tipping and causing fires. Also, pay attention to where you place your Menorah and Kinara, as you don’t want them near hanging decorations or other flammable items.
Christmastime is filled with traditions such as decorating Christmas trees, hanging stockings, and exchanging gifts. Many people also enjoy holiday foods, caroling, and special events like Christmas markets. Christmas lighting used on homes or around the tree can catch fire if the wiring is worn or old, which is why it is important to inspect the wiring before using lights.
Real Christmas trees can also be fire hazards if they become dried out. Property owners should also be mindful of how many cords they put into one outlet strip to avoid overloading their circuits. Also, be sure cords for lighting and electric decorations are out of the walkways.
New Year's Eve and New Year’s Day decorations can present the following dangers to guests on properties:
Party poppers and confetti cannons. These devices, which operate under pressure, can cause injury if they are misused or malfunction, causing harm to guests through direct impact or by startling someone into a harmful reaction. Additionally, the confetti or small parts that are ejected can create a slipping hazard on floors, especially if the premises owner does not promptly clean up after their use. If these items are used near open flames or heat sources, they could pose a fire risk.
Decorative lights. As we mentioned, these decorations can lead to fires, tripping accidents, and other incidents.
Ensuring the Safety of You & Your Guests
So, how can you ensure your holiday decorations do not become a legal liability? Here are some tips:
Keep your walkways clear. Ensure that your walkways, both inside and outside your home, are free from any decorations that could cause someone to trip and fall. This includes cords, decorations, toys, and even snow or ice.
Use nonflammable decorations. Rather than using decorations made from paper or other flammable materials, opt for those made from nonflammable materials like metal or glass.
Use LED lights instead of candles. When placing candles in your pumpkins, on the Menorah, and in/on other decorations, consider using electrical candles with LED lights instead of traditional candles.
Avoid overloading your outlets. Overloading a power outlet with too many plugs can lead to overheating and potentially a fire. Use a power strip with a built-in circuit breaker instead.
Secure your decorations. Make sure all decorations, especially those outside or in high-traffic areas, are secured properly to prevent them from falling and causing injury.
Maintain your holiday tree and decorations. If you opt for a real tree, ensure it is well-watered to avoid it drying out and becoming a fire hazard.
Consider pets and small children. Avoid small or fragile ornaments that can be easily broken and cause injuries. Also, keep decorations out of reach of children and pets.
Experienced Premises Liability Attorneys
The premises liability attorneys at Zayas Law Firm understand the devastating impact of an accident, especially during the holiday season. If you or a loved one has been a victim of a premises liability accident due to poorly maintained or unsafe holiday decorations, our experienced team is here to help.
We have a proven track record of successfully advocating for victims' rights, working to help our clients receive the compensation they deserve for their injuries, pain, and suffering. Our dedicated team works tirelessly to investigate every aspect of your case, gathering evidence and expert testimonies to build a strong case.
You can trust Zayas Law Firm to guide you through this challenging time with compassion, professionalism, and a relentless pursuit of justice. Contact our team online or via phone (860) 854-9156 today.