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Trick or treaters may be descending on your home in droves once the sun sets this Halloween. You may think you have your bases covered with candy and a lit Jack O' Lantern. But before you sit back on the sofa and wait for the doorbell to start ringing, think about protecting yourself from potential lawsuits by foreseeing possible dangers.
Porch Light on Invites Guests
If your porch light is on during Halloween evening, it's a signal to trick or treaters that they are invited to come to your door. As an invited guests on to your property, you owe them the highest duty of care, and must not only repair and correct known dangers, but you must also reasonably inspect, discover, and correct unknown hazards to areas in which your invited guests have access.
Take a walk to your door from the street or from your driveway, make sure it it well lit and clear of obstacles to avoid any potential injuries, and lawsuits. Confirm that pathways leading to the house do not include any loose bricks, or pavement cracks with elevations differing more than about a half inch.
If you discover any, mend them in any way possible before the little monsters start making their way to your door. If you can't fix the problem, put up a clear sign that warns everyone of the danger, using pictures if possible since trick or treaters may not be able to read some signs.
Trick or Treaters -- Those Attractive Nuisances!
Normally, if someone comes to your door uninvited, with the porch light off, they would be considered a trespasser, and as such, you would only owe them a duty not to be grossly negligent. However, this is Halloween, and trick or treaters are kids. A heightened level of care is owed to known trespassing children, under the doctrine of attractive nuisance. Here, the attractive nuisance is the candy, not the adorable child dressed as a little monster.
This doctrine increases the duty of care, basically back up to that of an invited guest, as the owner has a duty to inspect the property for any potentially dangerous conditions that might attract children, like the outside possibility of getting candy, and, if there are, act immediately to correct or warn of the unsafe condition. The property owner may be liable for any injury to a trespassing child that was reasonably foreseeable.
Watchdogs and Chihuahuas Beware!
Keep your animals under control when opening doors to trick or treaters. The cacophony of endless doorbell chimes is enough to set most dogs off. Coupled with the desire to protect owners from goblins, zombies, and werewolves, one bite would really kill the whole evening. Penalties vary by state, and by the dog's history for biting people. If you want to play it safe, keep Fido in a crate or locked in another room during peak trick or treat hours, even though it is tempting to dress your dog in an adorable costume that rivals any kiddos coming for treats.
If someone does get injured on your property, contact your homeowner's insurance company to see if the incident is covered under your policy. Remember that, at some point, your interests and that of the insurance company may diverge, and you probably have the right to hire your own attorney, paid for by the insurance company.
Check your policy, ask questions, and contact an insurance defense attorney to protect your interests. If your insurance company does not cover these suits for you, or in the case of a severe dog bite claim, contact a personal injury defense to help defend yourself against any claims from injured parties