Q: Why should owners or renters of homes be concerned legally about injuries sustained by visitors?
A: Aside from a natural concern for the welfare of those who visit one’s home, a homeowner may be liable for money damages to persons who are injured while on the homeowner’s property, according to Ohio law. Liability will depend on whether the visitor was on the property to conduct some type of business transaction, or was an invited guest, or was a trespasser, and whether or not the owner/occupier had knowledge of the danger or defect on the premises that contributed to or caused the injury.
Q: What type of insurance, if any, may protect the owner or occupier of a home against liability for injuries to a visitor?
A: A very common form of liability insurance is “homeowners insurance,” and the extent of coverage under this type of policy is dependent upon the terms of the policy and the circumstances of the accident or injury.
Q: What are some types of occurrences which may be covered by homeowners insurance?
A: Some examples of such incidents include slips and falls on the home’s sidewalk, dog bites and dog attacks, accidental discharge of a firearm, and fires.
Q: What types of occurrences are generally not covered by homeowners insurance policies?
A: Most intentional acts aimed at harming someone will not be covered by this type of insurance policy. Some Ohio courts have, however, required an insurance company to pay for a particular injury when the intentional act was committed by an insane person or when the act was intentional, but the resulting injury was not intended. Injuries resulting from the use of a motor vehicle owned by the insured are not covered by a homeowners policy.
Q: What persons may not benefit from homeowners coverage?
A: A policy may exclude coverage to injured people on the premises who are relatives of the owner or occupier of the home, and to injured people who are engaged in “business pursuits” with the owner/occupier.
Q: Under what circumstances might homeowners insurance apply to injuries suffered away from the premises of the home?
A: A policy may state that coverage exists for damages resulting from negligence arising out of the policyholder’s use of personal property. In one case, a person was injured when a policyholder’s shotgun accidentally fired while he was unloading shells onto the bed of his truck. The court required the insurance company to cover the cost of the injury because, even though the accident did not happen on the policyholder’s property, it was caused by the policyholder’s property (the gun) and was not an intentional act.
Q: What happens when the homeowner/occupier is liable for the injuries to another person and the homeowners insurance company refuses to pay?
A: The insurance company may refuse to pay if the occurrence is not covered by the policy, or if the person who caused the injury is not covered by the policy. Also, policies may specifically exclude certain types of incidents or persons from coverage.
These kinds of disputes may result in two different lawsuits. First, the injured person may bring suit against the homeowner/occupier for money to compensate for his/her injuries and expenses. The second suit, called a “declaratory judgment action,” calls for a judge to decide whether or not the insurance company must protect its insured under the homeowners policy.
Many insurance policies contain specific time limits within which the policyholder must bring suit against the insurance company (for example, one year). If the policyholder fails to sue within that time limitation, the policyholder may lose his or her right to sue the insurance company.
This "Law You Can Use" legal information article was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was originally prepared by attorney Jack Neuenschwander, formerly of the Piqua firm of McCulloch, Felger, Fite & Gutmann Co., L.P.A. It was updated by Toledo attorney Steven R. Smith of Connelly & Collier LLP.