Slip and Fall Claims and Homeowners' Insurance

How a property owner's insurance coverage will affect an insurance claim or lawsuit over a slip and fall.

If you are injured in a slip and fall at a neighbor's house, will the property owner's homeowner's insurance kick in to cover any claim you make? There are a number of issues that come into play here, so let's take a closer look at each of them, starting will the all-important coverage question.

Is There Homeowner's Insurance?

The first question that will come up is whether the property owner even has homeowner's insurance. Luckily, the vast majority of homeowners do. Almost every homeowner with a mortgage has property insurance because the mortgage companies require it. But if the homeowner owns the property free and clear, with no mortgage, it is possible that he/she might not have homeowner's insurance. There is no registry of homeowner's insurance. The only way that you can find out the identity of a homeowner's insurer is to ask the property owner.

Report the Injury to the Insurer as Soon as Possible

You should report the injury to the homeowner's insurer as soon as possible. If you wait too long to report the claim, the insurer may start to think that the claim is not a legitimate one. You should ask the homeowner for the name of his/her insurer as soon as you think that your injury may be significant, and you should report the injury to the insurer as soon as you get the insurer's name.

If the Owner is Reluctant to Go Through Their Insurer

Insurance companies don't like having claims made against them. They love receiving their premium every month, but hate paying out any money. Some insurers will cancel a homeowner's coverage if even one claim is made under the policy. So, not surprisingly, some homeowners will refuse to report possible claims to their insurer, and will try to deal with the claim themselves.

If you slip and fall on someone else's property, and you have reason to believe that the homeowner has insurance (because he/she has a mortgage), but the homeowner refuses to tell you who the insurer is, the only way that you can get the name of the insurer is to sue the homeowner and demand that he/she provide you with that information.

Making a Claim Against the Homeowner

Personal injury claims against insured homeowners proceed exactly like claims against insured automobile drivers. Once the claim is reported to the insurer, the company assigns an insurance adjuster to the case. The adjuster will contact the insurer (i.e., the homeowner) to get the homeowner's story on what happened, and then will contact the injured person to get the injured person's story.

The adjuster may ask you to give a recorded statement about what happened. If you do not have a lawyer, you should not give a recorded statement. Despite what the adjuster might say in order to convince you to give the statement, almost nothing good ever happens to unrepresented personal injury claimants who give recorded statements to insurance adjusters.

The adjuster will want to get your medical records and bills as your medical treatment progresses, and will also want any documentation supporting any lost earnings claim that you might have. Once you have completed your treatment, the adjuster will try to settle the claim with you. If you can't settle the claim, you would need to file a lawsuit against the homeowner in order to get proper compensation for your injuries. (Learn more about the First Discussion with an Insurance Adjuster After an Injury.)

Medical Payment Coverage

Homeowner's insurance generally has two separate types of coverages, liability coverage and medical payment coverage (often called "med pay").

Medical payments coverage pays a limited amount of the injured person's medical bills, whether or not the homeowner was negligent. Most homeowners have $5,000 or $10,000 of med pay coverage. Medical payments coverage applies to your medical bills and pays them on an ongoing basis. You simply submit them to the adjuster as they come in, up to the limits of the coverage.

There Must Be Negligence for Liability Coverage to Kick In

As in almost any type of personal injury case, a homeowner is only liable for a slip and fall accident on his/her property if the homeowner was negligent and his/her negligence was a cause of your accident. Simply because you fell on someone's property does not mean that the homeowner was negligent. You had to have fallen because of some unsafe condition in the property. The liability portion of homeowner's liability only covers damages for negligence. If, for example, you slipped because you spilled some water on the floor and didn't wipe it up, the homeowner would not be liable, and his/her insurer would not be required to pay you any money under its liability coverage.

Common Types of Residential Slip And Fall Accidents

Most residential slip (or trip) and fall accidents involve slipping or tripping on stairs; slipping or tripping on rugs, carpets, or the floor; or slipping or tripping on sidewalks or on ice or snow. Let's look at some common examples.

Staircase Accidents

Staircases can be unsafe in many different ways. These factors, among many others, can contribute to someone slipping and falling down a set of stairs:

  • a foreign substance on the stairs
  • lack of handrails or poorly designed handrails
  • risers (the height of each step) are the wrong height or are of varying heights
  • the steps are too shallow, and
  • poorly placed carpets or rugs on the stairs.

Accidents on Rugs, Carpets, or the Floor

The following are common ways of slipping or tripping on rugs, carpets, and the floor:

  • area rugs without a proper grip pad underneath
  • carpets with holes in them
  • carpets that are frayed at the edge
  • wet floors
  • freshly waxed floors, and
  • leaking ceilings.

Learn more about Slip and Fall Accidents and Premises Liability.

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