You better watch out. You better not cry. You better exercise a reasonable standard of care, and we’re telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town.
Every Christmas, millions of children around the world go to bed early and try to shut their eyes tight while they secretly wait for the sound of sudden hoofbeats on the roof. Their parents tell them to leave out milk and cookies (or carrot sticks if they’re health conscious) and if they were good all year that they will wake up to presents under the tree.
This arrangement between homeowners and Santa Claus therefore enters the legal bounds of an “invitee,” as defined by Florida premises liability laws. Because Santa is welcomed and anticipated in homes with the expectation that he will leave gifts, the relationship between Santa and homeowners exists as a sort of contract. Accordingly, homeowners owe Santa a minimum standard of care to maintain their property, keep it safe from obvious hazards, and warn invitees like Santa about any hazards they cannot reasonably eliminate entirely.
While this whole scenario may be firmly in “whimsical” territory, it does give our Miami personal injury lawyers a golden opportunity. Since Santa’s visit is such a familiar concept, we can use it to illustrate the sort of standards of care property owners have to abide by.
So if you want to ensure that Santa won’t automatically put your household on the “naughty” list this year as a result of sustaining serious injuries because of your neglect, you can use the following pointers and legal definitions.
Premises liability laws — which govern personal injury situations like a slip and fall — tend to vary from state to state. Even still, these laws maintain a few consistent categories when trying to explain the different duties of care a property owner might be expected to uphold.
Generally speaking, there are three categories of people who might enter private property:
Florida’s premises liability statutes say that an, “‘invitation’ means that the visitor entering the premises has an objectively reasonable belief that he or she has been invited or is otherwise welcome on that portion of the real property where injury occurs.”
This phrasing covers a broad range of people who may or may not have been given an explicit invitation to come to someone’s house or other property. Of course, Santa doesn’t need this wide of an interpretation to demonstrate that he is a genuine invitee. Families who actively tell kids that Santa is coming and who leave out late-night snacks in exchange for the trouble of leaving “free” gifts demonstrate in several ways that they not only expect Santa to come to their home, they want him to come.
The important thing to recognize among all is this: not only would Florida law likely consider Santa an “invitee,” so might many other people who would have “an objectively reasonable belief” that they’re allowed on your property.
If you have any sound reason to expect that an invitee might come onto your property, then you have a duty of care to identify and remove any possible hazards from their path.
What sort of hazards might you be reasonably expected to handle? They include typical types of personal injury situations that might happen on property, such as:
Christmas hazards are nothing to sneeze at, either. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), more than 150 homes a year experience a fire around the Holidays caused by their decorative lights. Lacerations, strains, bruises and fractures are also common consequences of Christmas related accidents.
So, not only are you expected to not deliberately booby trap your chimney to put Santa in danger, but you must also remove other potential dangers from his path. For families, that might mean taping down your Christmas tree lights, offering adequate lighting for Santa’s safe landing, and putting away loose toys that he could trip on.
What about those hazards you can’t possibly completely eliminate? For example, what if there’s a freak snowstorm in Miami and no matter how much you shovel your walk and patch up your gutters there’s still a recurring frozen puddle?
If you cannot reasonably predict where all these hazards might be or reasonably eliminate them entirely, you still owe Santa a duty to warn him about these hazards. In fact, you owe almost everyone who comes on your property a duty to try and prevent an avoidable accident by notifying them about such hazards.
Now that you know what Santa might legally expect of you before he comes to your house, you will also be informed of your own rights when coming onto anyone else’s property in Miami this winter. Whether you’re visiting a friend’s house for a Christmas party, going shopping at a local store, or pretending to be Santa by sneaking around a relative’s house in the middle of the night, all property owners have a duty to take hazards out of your path and warn you about the ones they can’t.
If you still happen to be injured on business property or private property as a result of someone’s negligence, know that the owner could be liable for your medical costs and other damages. You can talk to our Miami personal injury lawyers if you think you might have a case this Christmas or any time of the year.
Be safe this Holiday season, be merry, and above all else be kind to Santa!