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As a homeowner, you are not liable for every slip and fall that happens in your home. To be held responsible for a person's injuries, you had to have been negligent in a way that caused the accident. If a person slips because they lost their balance randonmly, you wouldn't be liable. If they tripped and fell because of unfinished construction on your staircase, then you would be liable. We go into more detail about the nature of slip and fall claims below.
When Does Homeowners Insurance Cover a Slip and Fall Accident?
Homeowners insurance doesn't really "cover" slip and fall accidents - it will step in to cover the cost of a legal defense and/or eventual payout should a slip and fall suit, or any liability suit, be brought against you. You would only be held liable if it can be proven the cause of the injured person's fall was a result of your negligence.
A person cannot come into your home, slip because their shoes are untied, then sue you for medical damages. They can however sue you if they fell because your stairs were unsafe, or your carpets were not properly secured, or your floor was wet and you did not inform them. Slip and falls are just part of the wide range of liability suits that can be brought against a homeowner, such as dog bites. Here are some more examples of tripping and falling you could be liable for:
- A person slipping on your unshoveled driveway
- A person trips on a skateboard hidden under clutter
- A person falls over a loose nail in the floorboards
- A person trips over unkempt tree roots in your backyard
If Someone Sues You, How Much Are You Covered For?
Most homeowners policies offer a minimum of $100,000 of liability insurance, which is separate from the coverage that protects the structure of your home or your property. Given the cost of medical and legal expenses, $100,000 may not be enough for most homeowners to be properly insured against liability suits.
To be sufficiently insured, we always recommend homeowners (and car owners) have enough liability insurance to cover their total assets. For example, if the value of your assets including your home, car, and all banking and brokerage accounts is $500,000, you should get $500,000 worth of liability coverage. This is because if your liability limits do not equal the amount you are being sued for, the person suing can go after your assets to make up the difference should they win the case. Higher limits make it less likely you will run out of insurance protection. If you hold assets that go above $1,000,000, you can take out a umbrella liability policy which gives you extra cover up to $10 million.
Luckily, the cost of increasing your liability coverage is not expensive. We found that you can increase your limits from $100,000 to $1,000,000 for as little as an extra $8 more per year. The final price will of course depend on your individual circumstances, but we wouldn't expect you to pay much more to increase your liability limits on your homeowners policy. If you want or need an umbrella policy, we've found that homeowners can pay an extra $150 to $300 per year.
What to Do if Someone Sues You for a Slip and Fall Accident
If someone tripped and fell in your home, and wants you to pay for their injuries, they will have to file a claim through your insurance company. We recommend you just comply and be open with all of your insurance information--don't try to hide the identity of your insurer as it will only lead to further legal issues. Next, your insurer will send an adjuster to conduct an investigation, get statements and develop an understanding of the case.
Unless your intention was malicious, and you purposely caused the fall, your insurer should cover you. They will be your defense, and try to negotiate as small a payout as possible. In most cases if the person suing you seems likely to win, the insurer will want to just settle with them out of court. If the case advances into a legal proceeding, your insurance company will cover an legal expenses you incur. Should you lose your case, they will then pay the settlement determined by the court.
If for any reason your company is refusing to take your case, we'd suggest you hire a personal injury attorney. We would not recommend you try to settle the case on your own, as a personal injury attorney with experience will have a better idea of what to do in these cases in terms of legal defense and settlements.
Medical Payments Portion of Homeowners Insurance
All homeowners policy also have a medical payments portion where you can provide emergency medical costs to someone without first needing to determine who was at-fault, or negligent, in the case. If someone needs to be taken to the hospital, their expenses would be reimbursed by your medical payments coverage without ever needing a lawyer or adjuster. Limits for medical payments are much lower however, generally no more than $10,000 per policy.