Who’s Responsible When Guests are Injured in Vacation Homes?
Though many Americans are wary of traveling right now with the pandemic ongoing across the country, some are starting to venture back out for vacations, family visits, business travel, and other purposes. They will always need places to stay, and the trend in travel recently has been toward renting private homes, apartments, or other accommodations through online platforms like Airbnb.
Renting out a home or space on one of the vacation rental platforms can be highly lucrative. However, it also comes with a certain amount of risk. For one, guests might be injured while staying at a property. If they are, who is responsible for paying for medical bills—the guest or the property owner?
In most cases, a business owner is obliged to keep the property in a safe condition. That includes a duty to make sure the floors are relatively even, the stairs are well maintained, there are no exposed electrical wires, and other obvious duties. In general, as long as the property is maintained reasonably well, an owner is considered to have done their duty to prevent injury.
However, some potential hazards develop without much warning. A common danger is precipitation, including snow and ice. In the case of a rental home or vacation property, is the owner responsible for removing all ice and snow around a property to prevent slipping? If the property is like a hotel, inn, or other type of business, the answer is yes—the owner is responsible for taking reasonable care.
Some courts, like the Virginia Supreme Court in a 2018 case, have determined that the property owners for short-term rentals like Airbnbs are not responsible under premises liability. Instead, the court there ruled that the renter was responsible, like in the relationship of a landlord and tenant, rather than like an innkeeper and guest. That limited the owners’ responsibility for injuries on the property. That is in Virginia, though, and individual state laws may vary.
Most hotels and inns maintain insurance to protect themselves in the case of injured guests. Short-term rentals of vacation homes and cabins is relatively new, though, and not all such properties or rental platforms maintain liability insurance.
Airbnb, for example, offers a blanket host coverage program that covers bodily injury and property damage up to $1 million. This is limited, though, and does not apply in a variety of circumstances, including in the case of theft or if the host is operating a business out of the home. In that case, if the owner is hosting regularly and their homeowner’s insurance does not cover it, a host may need to set up a separate insurance for short-term rentals.
Who was injured?
In some cases, the fault for the injury might fall on the renters themselves. For instance, let’s say the renters invited over social guests to your short-term rental for a party. They are particularly messy renters, and have left laundry all over the floors of the rental home and spilled water on the floor. One of their social guests goes inside and trips over a piece of loose clothing or slips in some water, falls, and hits their head hard on the floor of the house, requiring medical treatment.
In that case, the renter could be responsible, as it was the renter’s failure to maintain safe conditions in the house they were renting. The owner would likely not be held responsible for that situation.
However, in a situation where a social guest comes over and is injured by a structural defect in the house, such as a faulty railing or uneven stairs, it could come back to the owner because of a failure to maintain safe conditions prior to renting out the space.
There is always some risk in renting out a home to guests. There are ways to protect yourself, but if you are injured or someone is injured in your rental home, you may want to seek the advice of a personal injury lawyer to help with your case.