Liability for Home Repair Contractors
April 29, 2021
As homeowners continue to make property repairs following the February winter storm that overwhelmed the entire state, some property owners may be wondering about liability for those who enter their homes. Estimates of the cost of property damages caused by the winter storm statewide are in the $10 billion range (with some estimates much higher when other factors are included), so even if you don’t have any significant damage, it’s likely you know someone who did.
Prior to beginning work, most homeowners get estimates from a few vendors. A neighbor might recommend a great contractor to do the repair work you need, or your insurance company may provide a referral. What if that person gets hurt while working on your home? Suddenly it’s less important that your next-door neighbor liked their work and more important that this individual carry reliable insurance. If a contractor or sub-contractor gets injured while working on your house, who pays? Are you responsible for workers in your home? Under the legal framework of premises liability, the short answer could be a resounding “Yes.”
When it comes to contractors or paid individuals entering your home to perform a service, there are a few legal factors in play that we should cover.
Premises liability defined. In all states including Texas, property owners owe some level of care to those who visit their property. The duty of care owed has to do with the status of the visitor. There are three basic types of visitors: invitee, licensee and trespasser.
An invitee is a person who enters the property at the expressed or implied invitation of the property owner. Examples might be a guest invited by a homeowner, a customer or patron at a restaurant or grocery store, or a resident or guest of a resident of an apartment complex. Invitees are those who are on the property for mutual benefit of both the property owner and the person visiting the premises. Invitees are therefore owed the highest duty of care in premises liability.
A licensee is one who enters the premises with permission or allowance from the property owner but not with an expressed or implied invitation. Having not been expressly invited, these visitors to a premises must meet a higher standard in order to recover financially from the property owner in the event of an injury.
A trespasser is on the property or premises without any legal right or permission. In general, this person is owed no legal duty of care by the property owner since he wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place. One notable exception to this rule would be something like a child trespassing in someone’s backyard and drowning in the swimming pool. In such an instance, the homeowner could be held liable under the attractive nuisance theory for failing to secure the property.
Under premises liability law, a contractor or sub-contractor performing work on your home would be classified as an invitee. Why? They were invited to be there by you to perform work you want done, and as such the visit in mutually beneficial. That means you as the property owner or possessor owe them a duty of care. You are responsible to let them know of any existing or known (or should have known) hazards they might encounter on your property.
Next up, we need to address property owner or possessor control of the project. When a property owner decides to hire a contractor to make needed repairs on their homes, they may approach the project in one of two ways. Some property owners may discuss the scope of the project with the contractor and then step back from the project and limit their involvement. Others may choose to be more involved in the day-to-day handling not only of the vision and goal of the project but also the hands-on work. The extent to which a property owner or controller was involved in the execution of the work itself may be a determining factor in terms of liability should an injury occur.
Generally, property owners should provide a safe work environment in which work is to be completed. Those who don’t may incur liability should a contractor or subcontractor sustain an injury while working on the property if the property owner knew or should have known of a hazard and failed to warn the contractor or subcontractor of the condition that caused the injury. A property owner who is more directly involved with the execution of the project is more likely to incur liability in the event of a personal injury.
In general, homeowner’s insurance should protect property owners from financial loss if someone is injured on their property. When selecting a contractor to complete work on your property, the safest bet is to make sure that whoever you hire is insured. Need guidance on personal injury liability for your property? We’re just a phone call away.