Part of the fun of Halloween is dressing up your home with the spookiest decor and doling out candy for eager trick-or-treaters. But what happens if someone walks through your yard on Halloween night and gets injured? It’s an unfortunate but realistic scenario that can have a number of consequences for homeowners. Worst-case—and scariest—scenario? Someone brings a lawsuit claiming that a trick-or treater got injured on your property. Would you be liable for this claim?
Under the law, if a porch light is on, trick-or-treaters are considered to be invited visitors, and it is a homeowner’s responsibility to have a property free of hazards. If anyone who enters your property on Halloween night gets injured, most homeowners insurance policies will cover minor injuries.
However, homeowners could be liable if trick-or-treaters are injured on their property if it can be proven that they were negligent in causing or contributing to that injury, says Jared B. Staver of Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, in Chicago.
For example, he says, a large crack in your walkway would be hard for someone to see in the dark. If a person tripped and broke a bone, he may claim you were negligent for not posting a warning sign and bringing attention to the crack.
“There is a reasonable expectation that you will receive visitors on Halloween. As a result, taking a few precautions will help guarantee the safety of trick-or-treaters and protect the homeowner,” says Christopher Layton of the Layton Law Firm, in Charlotte, NC.
To ensure a happy—and hazard-free—Halloween for all, here are some important questions homeowners should ask themselves before the trick-or-treaters come around.
Is the outdoors well-lit?
Make sure outdoor lights are bright and your yard is well-lit for little ghosts and goblins. Motion sensors are a good way to illuminate the house.
“Walkways should have lighting, and porches should be illuminated. If there are any danger zones, they should be well-marked and indicated with lighting as well,” says Staver.
Glow-in-the-dark or solar lighting is often not enough for late-night Halloween adventures, he cautions. Homeowners should instead invest in high-powered wattage.
Also, avoid using real candles in carved pumpkins or paper lanterns, since they are a fire hazard. Instead, opt for faux candles with LED bulbs.
Are there any tripping hazards?
It’s a good idea for homeowners to consider how children will enter and exit their property, says attorney Robert Fisher Jr., a partner at Edgar Snyder & Associates, in Pittsburgh.
“There’s a good chance that kids won’t always use your walkway, come to the door, grab the candy, go back down the walkway, and then enter the sidewalk in a direct path. It is more likely they will cut through the yard and use shortcuts. Keep your yard clear, and mark any potential hazards,” he advises.
This means fixing loose bricks and or cracks on pathways, or at least pointing them out with a sign, so kids won’t trip on them.
Scott Holeman, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute in New York, also recommends removing any leaves or branches from the path to your home.
More elaborate decorations like inflatables may require electricity, which means you will have to run an extension cord through your yard. It’s best to keep these tripping hazards as far away from walkways as possible and make it clear that trick-or-treaters should stay on the walkways. You can do this with a makeshift fence or luminary bags with LED lights.
To eliminate the need for trick-or-treaters to even walk through your yard, Layton suggests setting up a table at the end of your driveway and handing out candy from there.
“This saves the eager kids a long walk up to the front door, and helps the homeowner by reducing the potential for injuries on the property,” says Layton.
Are my decorations intended to scare people or make them jump?
We don’t blame you for wanting to go all-out when decorating for Halloween, but to minimize the potential for injury, it’s probably wise to go easy on the scary special effects. These can cause jump scares and could result in someone tripping and falling. Strobe lights and fog machines, two popular features used in elaborate Halloween decorations, also have the potential to cause problems like seizures and asthma attacks.
Are the steps to my home unobstructed and slip-resistant?
Remove plants and other objects from your steps. If the weather report says it could be a rainy night, apply friction tape to the steps to make them less slippery. And if you experience an early freeze, make sure to have ice-melt on hand to de-ice your steps.
Are pets secured out of the way?
Even the most well-behaved pets can be unpredictable and react to harmless trick-or-treaters. That’s why it’s best to keep your pets indoors.
“If you have pets, you should keep them in a separate room from the entry. With heavy activity, they could become frightened. To avoid potential bites or pet escapes, it is recommended that they be confined to another area in your home,” says Holeman.
It’s worth noting that if a dog bites a visitor, the homeowner is generally liable for the incident, according to Staver.
“Many homeowners insurance policies have dog bite clauses and cover these situations as long as the homeowner revealed that they owned a dog when obtaining the policy,” he says.
Should I skip the homemade treats?
If you are giving out homemade candies, cookies, or other treats, you may be liable for injuries due to illnesses such as allergic reactions to peanuts.
Layton says despite the loving care that goes into homemade treats, Halloween is not the right time for them.
“Kids will go home with so much candy, and if they are injured by any of it, you, the homeowner, want to be able to simply point to the manufacturer of the treat, rather than be singled out as the person who gave out the handmade treats,” says Layton.
Although your homeowners policy covers injuries on your property such as slip and fall, it likely won’t cover a food-related illness. Bottom line: Stick to store-bought candy.