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Holiday Parties and Premises Liability

Posted by attorney Stewart Guss

It seems I close my eyes, turn around, and another year has passed. The holiday season is upon us once again. For my wife and I, this is our favorite time of year. Autumn is wonderful: Lots of parties, lots of family gatherings and plenty of opportunities to entertain guests in our home. But what happens when Aunt Mildred catches her heel on your rug and takes a spill? What happens when uncle Frank carves a bit more "hand" than "ham" with the electric knife? Entertaining guests is a marvelous part of the holiday season, but there are liability issues of which you should be aware.

In terms of guests being injured on your property, you may have insurance coverage of which you were not even aware. Did you know that most homeowner's policies in Texas have "medical payments" coverage that will pay the medical bills of a guest injured in your home? This coverage is available even if you did nothing wrong to cause the injury. Typically, this medical payments coverage is around $5,000.00, but ONLY covers the cost of actual medical expenses. I would highly recommend contacting your insurance agent before the "entertaining" season starts to make sure that you have adequate coverage. Increasing your limits of coverage is generally inexpensive and can provide a fast and easy resolution to an otherwise uncomfortable situation in the event a guest is injured. Keep in mind, however, that medical payments coverage does NOT cover those who are living in the home, only visiting guests.

In addition to medical payments coverage, your homeowner's policy likely provides liability protection as well. The typical liability coverage for a Texas homeowner's policy is $100,000.00 but you should confirm the existence and amount of coverage with your agent. While medical payments coverage covers situation in which you may not be at fault, liability coverage covers those situation where you were negligent in causing the injury. The policy limits are higher for liability coverage and this coverage protects against additional damages that a claimant may seek in court (e.g. physical pain and mental anguish, disability, disfigurement, etc.)

Of course, as with so many things in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Call your insurance agent and make sure that you have sufficient insurance coverage in regard to your guests. Also, why not set aside one of these fine fall weekends to double check your house for potential safety hazards? Do you have any loose tile or flooring? Are there any sharp edges exposed around the kitchen? Texas law requires you, as a host, to exercise ordinary care in order to make your home reasonably safe for your guests. By taking the time to make sure you have adequate insurance coverage and a reasonably safe home, you can take one more thing off your "list of things to worry about" before the guests start to arrive. (Now you can focus on trying not to burn the turkey again this year!) Of course, one of the most important tips in this holiday season - do NOT let your clients drink to excess then drive home!

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