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When Fall Yard Work Leads to Injuries: Understanding Homeowner Liability in Pennsylvania

Town Law Publishing Sept. 5, 2023

Ah, fall in Pennsylvania! The leaves turn from green to shades of red, orange, and gold, offering picturesque landscapes as far as the eye can see. While it’s a visual treat, these fallen leaves also necessitate annual yard work — raking, bagging, and removing leaves, along with other property maintenance chores to prepare for winter. But what happens when this seasonal activity leads to personal injuries? Who's responsible? And what legal rights do you have if you're the one injured? This article delves into the complexities of homeowner liability in the context of yard work injuries during fall in Pennsylvania.

The Scenario: A Slippery Slope

Imagine you're walking by a neighbor's property when you suddenly slip and fall on wet leaves they failed to remove from their sidewalk. Or consider that you’ve hired someone to clean your gutters, and they fall off the ladder. Both scenarios can lead to complicated legal cases involving homeowner liability.

Understanding Homeowner Liability

The Duty of Care

Under Pennsylvania law, property owners owe a "duty of care" to individuals who come onto their property. The level of care varies depending on the nature of the entrant—whether they are an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. Essentially, homeowners are expected to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition.

Reasonable Time

Homeowners are generally given a "reasonable" amount of time to address potential hazards. But what's considered reasonable can differ depending on the specific circumstances, such as weather conditions or the homeowner's physical capabilities.

The Intricacies of Liability

The Role of Comparative Negligence

Pennsylvania follows the rule of "modified comparative negligence." This means that if you are found to be partially responsible for your injury—for example, if you weren't paying attention to where you were walking—you may still recover damages, but they will be reduced according to your share of the blame, as long as it’s not greater than the property owner's liability.

The Complexity of Contracted Work

If you hire someone to perform yard work and they get injured, matters can become complicated. Are they considered an employee or an independent contractor? The answer could significantly impact who is liable for injuries sustained during the job. Workers’ compensation could come into play if the person is considered an employee.

Legal Steps After an Injury

If you're injured due to someone else's negligence in failing to maintain their yard, immediate actions are crucial.

  1. Seek Medical Attention: Your health comes first.

  2. Gather Evidence: Take photos of the area, the hazard that caused the injury, and your injuries themselves.

  3. Get Witness Statements: If anyone saw what happened, their account could be pivotal.

  4. Consult an Attorney: A legal expert can guide you through the complexities of liability and help you understand your options.

How to Protect Yourself as a Homeowner

  1. Regular Maintenance: Keep your yard clear of hazards, especially in high-traffic areas.

  2. Clear Warnings: If a hazard exists that you can't immediately address, put up clear, visible warning signs.

  3. Insurance: Ensure your homeowner's insurance policy is up-to-date and covers liability for personal injuries.

Prevention is Better than Cure

While fall yard work is often considered a mundane chore, the risks involved shouldn’t be underestimated. The complexities of homeowner liability in Pennsylvania make it essential for both property owners and visitors to be vigilant about safety during these autumnal chores. By understanding the legal landscape and taking proactive steps, you can either protect yourself from liability or know what steps to take if you're injured.

So, as you sip on that pumpkin-spiced latte and admire the fall colors, remember: yard work isn’t just a seasonal chore, it's a responsibility. Whether you're a homeowner or a passerby, understanding the intricacies of homeowner liability could save you from a world of hurt—physically and legally.