Q. When I was a kid, I made money by mowing lawns and shoveling snow. Now that I’m old enough to want to hire some kid to do the same for me, my wife says we can’t, that we have to hire professional services with their own insurance, or we could be sued if a kid got hurt. Has it really come to this?
A. The fact is, as a homeowner, unless they are trespassing, you have a legal duty to individuals on your property to maintain safe premises and to correct any dangerous conditions that you know about, or reasonably should be expected to know. This is true whether the person is the kid down the road or a professional landscaper with insurance.
Action to correct a dangerous condition must be taken with a reasonable time of when the dangerous condition is discovered or should have been discovered. If a youngster is hurt on your property, whether you are responsible depends on whether you complied with this “duty of care.” Of course, what is “reasonable” is open to differing opinions and depends heavily on the cause of the injury and many other circumstances unique to each situation.
Another important question is whether your homeowners insurance policy provides coverage for an injury to someone doing your yard work. This would be liability coverage, which is for situations where someone is injured on your property due to your carelessness. If the injury was not caused by your carelessness, your policy may still provide “medical pay” coverage, but only for medical bills. Some insurance policies only provide coverage for damage to your property, not an injured individual. And some that cover personal injuries exclude coverage for paid workers on the property. Each policy is different, and small differences in language can make a big difference to the answer for the question: “Am I covered?”
So to answer your question, if you want to hire the neighborhood kid to work around your home: 1. Make it safe (as you would for your own family’s sake); 2. Make sure your insurance policy has liability coverage in general; and 3. Check to make sure there is nothing in the policy that would exclude an injury claim by a worker.
The last of these suggestions will require examination of your policy’s specific language by an attorney who practices insurance or personal injury law. You will want to discuss the policy language and any specific scenarios that may cause your concern. Only then will an attorney be in a position to give you specific advice regarding your particular situation.
If someone is hurt and your insurance says you’re not covered, it’s definitely time to see an attorney.
This column is a service of the Lawyer Referral and Information Service of the Maine State Bar Association. Its contents are a general response to the question and do not constitute legal advice. Questions are welcome. Go online to AAL@mainebar.org, describe your question and note you are a BDN reader. Written questions mailed to “Ask a Lawyer,” Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, Maine, 04402-1329 will be forwarded to the LRIS.