It’s the time of the year when kids wander the neighborhood taking candy from strangers and people casually wield sharp objects to carve pumpkins. It seems like we all embrace fear a little more at Halloween, but that doesn’t mean we should embrace more risk. Particularly in this litigious age, you should take certain measures to avoid a trip to the hospital, a lawsuit from an injured neighbor, or other Halloween liability concerns. Here are 13 tips to mummify you against risk. (Just one – we had to!)
6 Steps to Protect Your Liability at Halloween
In an era when about a third of people don’t know their neighbors, it’s nice that we all still feel comfortable celebrating a tradition that involves walking up to their homes and knocking on the door. Unfortunately though, having other people on your property comes with liability issues.
If you leave your porch light on during Halloween night, anyone that comes to your door is considered an invitee by the law and it becomes your job to provide a reasonable level of care to all those who come onto your property. That means if someone hurts themselves by tripping over your decorations, for instance, you could be liable to pay damages to them. That kind of lawsuit doesn’t happen often, but it’s not unheard of.
You shouldn’t avoid welcoming trick-or-treaters altogether out of fear of a lawsuit (or, you know, a trick). Instead, just take a few steps to reduce your risk:
- Walk the yard to look for trip hazards. This could be decorations, rakes or other yard tools, your kids’ toys, or a hole in the ground. Identify anything in the yard that could cause a person to fall and fix the issue. If there’s something you can’t fix by Halloween night, rope the space off or post a clear warning sign (which might actually look appropriately creepy).
- Make sure there’s plenty of lighting. In addition to your porch light, consider installing motion sensor lights and adding lighting along the walkway to your house (but not candles, since that’s a whole other risk).
- Avoid strobe lights and fog. They might look cool, but strobe lights can cause seizures and fog machines can set off asthma attacks. Seems extreme, perhaps, but it’s a real risk.
- Avoid pranks. It may sound like fun to chase after visitors with a chainsaw and a mask on, but if you freak someone out who gets hurt while running away, the fun will quickly be cut short.
- Keep any skittish dogs in a separate room. Even if your dog is normally nice, a lot of strange visitors in weird costumes could scare them. Keep them out of the way when people come by to avoid liability for dog bites.
- If you’re hosting an adult party, encourage responsible driving. If a guest of yours drives home drunk and hurts somebody, you could be held responsible. Encourage designated drivers and consider making your couch or an air mattress available to friends that aren’t ready to drive home at the end of the night.
If, in spite of your best intentions, someone does get hurt on your property, call your homeowners insurance company to report it.
“Normally injuries on your premises are covered by the medical portion of your policy,” says Neil Richardson, licensed insurance agent and adviser for The Zebra. In these cases, he explains “your insurance company has a duty to defend you in court against a lawsuit. This includes providing legal representation and paying for judgment assessed against you up to the limit of your policy.”
7 Ways to Protect Your Family and Property
Getting sued would be bad, but someone in your family getting hurt could be worse. To stay safe yourselves, follow a few main precautions:
- Have your kids carry flashlights. Kids are twice as likely to be the victims of a pedestrian fatality on Halloween than other times of year, and carrying lights makes them easier to see. Talk to them about obeying traffic laws, looking both ways before crossing the street, and staying close to their group.
- Avoid driving while kids are trick-or-treating. You don’t want to be behind the wheel when kids are darting from house to house. If you must drive, be on high alert.
- Don’t go inside a stranger’s house. Tell your kids to stay on the porch. And for that matter, don’t let strangers into your house either.
- Use LED lights in pumpkins rather than candles. No need to invite an accidental fire.
- Use the right tools when pumpkin carving. Hand injuries are far more common in October than other months, largely because of pumpkin carving injuries. Buy the right tools and don’t let kids carve until they’re old enough to handle them safely.
- Don’t overload outlets and extension cords. If you put up decorations that use electricity, pay attention to the instructions and make sure you use the appropriate outlet and don’t overstrain extension cords.
- Be aware of costume flammability. Even if you know better than to use candles, your neighbors might not. Consider if parts of your kids’ costumes may be prone to catching fire.
You may not be able to prevent every possible Halloween catastrophe, but you can vastly reduce the risks with a little precaution and common sense. All the scares this October should be in good fun.