Are you legally liable for your kids’ friends?
Your children’s best friends are almost like your own children, aren’t they?
Sometimes it seems like they practically live at your house – you feed them dinner, give them hugs and Band Aids, and help them with their homework.
As they say, it takes a village to raise a child.
But what would happen if one of your kids’ buddies were to be injured in your home? Are you legally liable?
You might be thinking that these parents whom you’re so friendly with would never blame you, but people can sometimes act in surprising ways when they’re scared and emotional.
That’s why it’s best to know your legal responsibilities and what you can do to minimize risk or injury within your home.
What is Premises Liability?
Whether you rent or own your home, you are legally responsible for maintaining a reasonably safe environment for guests. If you fail to do so and an injury occurs to anyone there, regardless of their age or relation to you, you may be legally liable.
These are a few of the most common types of injuries that involve premises liability:
- Slip and fall accidents
- Dog bites
- Swimming pool incidents
- Badly maintained property, such as broken steps
- Food poisoning or allergic reactions
- Medical issues resulting from consuming chemicals or drugs
- Burns or shocks
When Does it Apply?
Let’s face it – no matter their age, children have a way of getting themselves into trouble, even in situations where trouble doesn’t seem to exist. Given the fact that kids are naturally curious and that their brains haven’t yet developed the ability to make rational decisions, it’s natural for little ones to make unsafe choices. So when it comes to your liability, there are 2 key words: Reasonable and negligence.
It’s up to you to take reasonable measures to make sure that your home is safe for anyone, but especially children. Of course accidents can happen anywhere, but in order for you to be found at fault, someone would have to prove that an accident occurred due to your negligence.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate this point is through an example. Imagine that your son or daughter hosts a play date with a friend who is allergic to peanuts and the child’s parents made you aware of this allergy. If you then knowingly serve them cookies that contain peanut butter, it’s quite clear that you behaved in a negligent manner and any medical issue that would arise as a result is your fault.
If, on the other hand, a child visiting your home jumps on the couch, falls and hits his head, it wouldn’t necessarily be your fault. In all likelihood, you’ve told the kids that jumping on the couch is not allowed, but your little guest decided to do so anyway. Because this is not something you reasonably could have expected or prevented, you couldn’t be found legally liable for his injury.
As your children approach and enter their teen years, you should also be aware of the risks of them and their friends consuming alcohol or drugs on your property. In some instances, parents think it’s a better idea to host sanctioned drinking in their own home to minimize other risks. Regardless of the good intentions behind such decisions, the law sees only the violation. So, you could be liable for providing alcohol and for any injuries that may be caused because of it.
However, in most instances, parents either don’t know that drinking is happening while they’re home or it happens when they’re not at home. This is where it can get sticky, because it all depends on individual circumstances. If, for example, you left your teenage children at home alone when you went out of town, knowing that you had a full, accessible bar in your living room, it could be argued that you acted negligently.
Your best bet is to do everything you can to prevent underage drinking in your home. Always make it clear to your kids and their friends that you don’t allow it, keep your own alcohol locked up, frequently check on social get-togethers in your home, don’t allow teens to stay on their own when you leave town, and communicate with the parents of your kids’ friends if alcohol is found.
What You Can Do
Unfortunately there’s no way to entirely prevent injuries from happening in your home. The unexpected can, and frequently does, happen. In most cases, the parents of your kids’ friends understand this and will not pursue legal action if an accident happens to their children while they’re with you.
You should, however, take any and all reasonable precautions to prevent injury. Regularly inspect your home and make repairs as quickly as possible. Also, make sure that your kids and their friends understand safety rules regarding anything that could be a possible danger, like a pool or trampoline, for example. And though you can’t watch at every second, it’s important that you’re closely supervising kids so that you can quickly stop any risky behavior.
It’s also a good idea to have a home insurance policy that covers premises liability. Each policy is different, so it’s crucial to do your homework on yours, but most covers legal fees and medical expenses of a guest injured on your property. If you’re a renter, the landlord may be at fault if someone gets hurt in an apartment building common area that’s badly maintained, or if the owner knew about and failed to fix a dangerous condition inside your home. But renter’s insurance can help in the case that an injury was caused by your negligence.
It’s not pleasant to think about getting into a legal battle with the parents of your kids’ friends. In all likelihood, this won’t ever happen to you. But because children are so prone to accidents and injuries, it’s critical that you are aware of your legal rights and responsibilities. Your best strategy is vigilance about the safety conditions of your home – the more aware and proactive you are, the less likely you’ll be at risk.
About the Author: Jay Deratany is a legal writer, human rights advocate and Chicago injury lawyer. He’s also the founding member of The Deratany Firm. Though he’s passionately committed to helping his clients get justice, he prefers helping people prevent injury and avoid legal issues, whenever possible.