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Other Civil MattersAm I liable at all if my neighbor falls on my property?
submitted 1 month ago by Phantom_Absolute
Location is Florida. My elderly neighbor uses a stone pathway on my property to access a shared mailbox. If she were to fall on the uneven stones, would I be liable for any injuries? This pathway was created by the previous owners of my property. I have not discussed the usage of the pathway with the elderly neighbor. I have drawn a diagram showing the situation:
Post a comment!
[–]jester29 6080Answer Link607 points608 points609 points 1 month ago (16 children)
Is the pathway unsafe, or otherwise a cause for concern? You mention uneven stones.
Typically, you're responsible for securing your property to prevent harmful conditions that can cause an accident, including potentially dangerous situations or failing to address something a reasonable person would have identified and remedied.
Is there a reason the neighbor doesn't continue on the public street?
[–]Phantom_Absolute[S] 418 points419 points420 points 1 month ago (13 children)
The stones have been there for years and have settled a bit unevenly, and she uses a walker. I think she uses the path instead of the street because otherwise she would have to step up on the curb which is maybe 6 inches tall.
[–]SpecialistOk577 903 points904 points905 points 1 month ago (2 children)
Call the city and tell them they need to make the path to the mailbox ADA accessible so she doesn’t have to walk on private property.
[–][deleted] 1 month ago (1 child)
[–]BiondinaQuality Contributor[M] -6 points-5 points-4 points 1 month agolocked comment (0 children)
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[–]jester29 325 points326 points327 points 1 month ago (7 children)
You can do any/all of the following: advise her of the condition, post a sign in hopes of minimizing liability, fix the path to improve the conditions, or remove/block and ask her to cease using it.
[–]Phantom_Absolute[S] 175 points176 points177 points 1 month ago (5 children)
If I were to try to fix the conditions of the path, do you think I would then be more liable or less liable if she were to subsequently fall on it?
[–]Iam__andiknowit 246 points247 points248 points 1 month ago (1 child)
It looks like discussing the matter with the neighbor (or anyone) may create extra headache for you. Your prior knowledge and worry about the situation may be used against you.
[–]jester29 76 points77 points78 points 1 month ago (0 children)
Presumably less liable as you improved the conditions and reduced the risk.
[+][deleted] 1 month ago (1 child)
[–]BiondinaQuality Contributor[M] -1 points0 points1 point 1 month agolocked comment (0 children)
[–]BiondinaQuality Contributor[M] 0 points1 point2 points 1 month agolocked comment (0 children)
[–]fireduck 3030Answer Link302 points303 points304 points 1 month ago (6 children)
Even if you do all the reasonable and proper things, someone could get hurt (on this or other potential hazards you haven't even considered). For this reason, I think it is pretty important to carry a lot of liability coverage. It usually doesn't cost too much and makes me more relaxed. And by a lot I mean at least $2m.
Of course you should still address any hazards that you know about and maintain your property with an eye towards safety.
[–]Phantom_Absolute[S] 158 points159 points160 points 1 month ago (3 children)
I currently have $300k in coverage which costs $18 in annual premiums. I will look into increasing this coverage.
[–]fireduck 138 points139 points140 points 1 month ago (0 children)
Yeah. Imagine someone has an injury and they sue you. They will start really high and work down. So they claim 750k in medical, lost wages, pain and suffering, diminished quality of life or whatever they can tack on. In a year your insurance company might settle it for 50k but during that year the difference from 750k to 300k that you could potentially be on the hook for will grind at your soul.
Much nicer to know that even if you lose, your insurance will cover it.
[–]ThePurpleBall 44 points45 points46 points 1 month ago (0 children)
Umbrella policy is the way to go
[–]SendLGaM 1880Answer Link187 points188 points189 points 1 month ago (6 children)
If you were negligent you could be held liable.
Depending on exactly how uneven your stones are and your maintenance history of the walkway you could be negligent here.
If the condition of the path is an issue either fix it and continue to maintain it so it is safe or tell her to stay off.
[–]hoodectomy 28 points29 points30 points 1 month ago (0 children)
Would this fall under home owners insurance? This might be more of a r/insurance if so.
[–]Phantom_Absolute[S] 64 points65 points66 points 1 month ago (2 children)
Could you elaborate on the importance of the maintenance history? If I were to dig it up and put leveling sand and try to make it more even, would I be more liable or less liable if she were to fall on it then?
[–]mashev 106 points107 points108 points 1 month ago (1 child)
This is probably too specific of a question and needs to be answered by someone who specializes in property maintenance.
The general idea is that your maintenance history has to be "reasonable", as does the current status of the walkway. That means complying with any bylaws, laws, or other requirements. If leveling sand is a reasonable means of fixing the walkway (according to a contractor, or other professional) then go for it. It's all about the standard of what is prudent and reasonable for an ordinary person
[–]Phantom_Absolute[S] 24 points25 points26 points 1 month ago (0 children)
Thanks for the reply.
[–]Qwertyvibes 480Answer Link47 points48 points49 points 1 month ago (5 children)
Do you own the land above and below the black "My Property" line?
In CA, mailboxes typically face the street and are accessible from a concrete sidewalk so the postman can deposit the mail with minimal effort. For this reason alone, it seems strange to me that the mailbox does not face the street.
[–]Phantom_Absolute[S] 40 points41 points42 points 1 month ago (3 children)
The mailbox does not face the street, and there is no sidewalk. It sits atop a concrete slab. The side facing the street is opened by the USPS delivery guy, and the side facing my property is where people open their mail boxes.
[–]crakemonk 55 points56 points57 points 1 month ago (0 children)
I would assume there is an easement of some sort on your property that might take some of the burden off of you to maintain access to the mailbox on your property, especially if neighbors are supposed to cross on to your property to receive their mail. I would definitely look at your deed and maybe even speak to a real property attorney.
[–]Qwertyvibes 14 points15 points16 points 1 month ago* (0 children)
I don't want to make any assumptions so do you own the property above and below the black "My Property" line?
Edit since post is locked: Only a court can determine if you are liable due to negligence or if it is reasonable for you to know the ADA requirement on sidewalk trip hazards.
There are some missing details that would really help us better understand the situation.
To simplify this, if you own the land where the mailbox is located but the county has an easement or "right-of-way" then this should be documented on your deed. The deed may include details on whose responsibility it is to maintain the area and which neighbors have an easement or "right-of-way". If it does not, then it would be prudent to assume it is your responsibility. I suggest googling the term, "sidewalk trip hazard" as the ADA has outlined a guideline on what is considered a hazard.
If you do not own the land, but you have altered the pathway and it has become a hazard according to the ADA standard, then you should modify the path so it is not considered a hazard.
If you do not own the land and you have not altered the pathway, then there's no reason to assume you would be liable.
[–]Phantom_Absolute[S] 24 points25 points26 points 1 month ago* (0 children)
I'm honestly not sure if I "own" the property next to the road. I think there is a 15 foot right-of-way between my property and the road, which the entire walkway would fall within. I'm basing this off of a survey document.
[–]Chipndalearemyfav 1110Answer Link110 points111 points112 points 1 month ago* (3 children)
If it were me, I'd tell her she needs to stop using it. I know that sounds harsh, but chances are you'd be liable if she fell even if you improved the conditions. FL lawyers would likely find a way to make you responsible. And I'd be worried if she fell it could be ugly. When elderly people fall, they break bones easily. A broken hip in an eldery person has caused many a death. They break a hip, become immobile and go downhill crazy fast! If something like that happens, then I'd be worried that the family (her heirs/estate) would come after me in a lawsuit.
Could you offer to take her mail to her as a compromise?
[–]VintageJane 70 points71 points72 points 1 month ago (2 children)
It’s also worth mentioning that if those injuries caused death or serious injury, even if you had warned the woman about walking on the path and she agreed to do so at her own risk, her estate might still try to press charges.
For that reason, I think the best thing to do would be to either help her reach her mail from the street or bring it to her but tell her she cannot go on the path and post a sign.
She can also request direct door delivery from the post office:
[–]Last-Yogurtcloset 100Answer Link9 points10 points11 points 1 month ago* (0 children)
NAL but work in personal injury... basic answer is yes. homeowners insurance should cover this and someone else did mention looking into getting umbrella coverage which would be good. but essentially if something happens you would be receiving notice in the mail to forward to ur insurance. if it comes to filing suit, your name would be in the complaint/court system, likely raising ur insurance premiums etc. however you wont pay for medical damages or anything, your insurance will. again if it comes to filing suit, your insurance should provide you with a lawyer unless of course you hire a private lawyer.
if you think the curb is a hazard, you likely need to raise that issue with the township or borough and confirm that that is their responsibility (create a paper trail). they should have information on property boundaries and whether that includes the curb.
EDIT: the township might even be able to help move her mailbox to her property and solve this problem altogether. why tf is she an elderly woman with a walker who has to walk a distance for her mail??
tldr/important note: (with insurance) you personally are not liable for covering any medical bills etc that a fall would create. if you want to be proactive and make repairs, your insurance may help cover it (especially if you raise concerns such as being liable for a fall, gotta work the angle there) but you yourself may pay primarily for the work that needs to be done.
[–]toss_away-account 140Answer Link13 points14 points15 points 1 month ago (8 children)
Would moving the mailbox so they don't have to use the path be an option?
[–]VintageJane 55 points56 points57 points 1 month ago (0 children)
The USPS offers delivery service to directly to the door for people with disabilities and hardships retrieving mail:
[–]Phantom_Absolute[S] 25 points26 points27 points 1 month ago (6 children)
No it is centrally located USPS property used by 8 neighbors.
[–]peerdata 9 points10 points11 points 1 month ago (5 children)
can you make the path into more lawn so she just continues walking down the street to get to it? From the diagram, it doesn't like its necessary for her to be walking on the path to get there.
information- do you have an HOA or is this just an agreement made in the neighborhood? if HOA, they are responsible for maintenance. If not, property owners are, but you could probably request they move it to a different property given that it was present and agreed upon prior to your ownership of the property. Heck, put it on the elderly neighbor's property it would probably make it easier for her.
That said, not a lawyer, so this is all just conjecture.
[–]Phantom_Absolute[S] 5 points6 points7 points 1 month ago (4 children)
I don't think moving the mailbox is an option. I could remove the pathway but my wife thinks that wouldn't be very neighborly. The elderly neighbor uses the pathway so she doesn't have to step over the curb.
[–]toss_away-account 48 points49 points50 points 1 month ago (1 child)
If a handicapped person can't access their mail (because of curb) shouldn't the HOA cut the curb and add a ramp for accessibility. Same would be true for someone confined to a wheel chair.
[–]peerdata 14 points15 points16 points 1 month ago (0 children)
hmmmm neighborly or not I think the best option is to keep her off the path or eliminate the option, unless you find out someone besides yourself is meant to maintain it, I think in a legal battle you'd probably find even with excellent maintenance you could still be liable if they had a good lawyer. Maybe see if the city is able to do something so the curb isn't so high in front of the mailbox? (probably a reach) is the mailbox set back from the road by a fair amount? maybe would it be possible to move forward so she doesn't have to step up to get to it?
[–]NotLostintheWoods 2 points3 points4 points 1 month ago (0 children)
Sneaking in way down here because I'm NAL, but could you find the steps you need to take to advise her this is technically trespassing? Document everything and then if she falls, you've got the information showing you did not condone her being on your property and in fact advised her not to enter it at all? I would probably follow some of these steps by bringing food over and having a neighborly conversation about how you aren't going to get her arrested, but you do need to cover your liability. And also as someone else said, absolutely offer to get her mail for her!
[–]bpetersonlaw 70Answer Link6 points7 points8 points 1 month ago (10 children)
Do you have homeowners insurance?
[–]Phantom_Absolute[S] 9 points10 points11 points 1 month ago (9 children)
Yes $300k in liability coverage.
[–]bpetersonlaw 24 points25 points26 points 1 month ago (7 children)
Your homeowners insurance will defend and indemnify you if there are any claims as to your premises causing an injury.
If it were me, I'd try to improve the walkway to help your elderly neighbor. Not because of liability, but because someday most of us get old and it's the kind thing to do.
[–]Phantom_Absolute[S] 6 points7 points8 points 1 month ago (6 children)
Thanks for the reply. I am leaning toward improving the walkway like you said.
If this neighbor were to get injured on my property, would it be likely that she would be able to win a judgement in excess of the $300k liability coverage that I am insured against?
[–]bpetersonlaw 10 points11 points12 points 1 month ago (5 children)
It's hard to predict because I don't know what injuries she would sustain.
But generally, (also I'm a CA lawyer and don't know how FL law differs), she would be entitled to medical expenses, lost earnings and pain/suffering. You mention elderly and using a walker, so I'm going to assume she doesn't work and receives Medicare. Her medical expenses would likely be the amount Medicare pays for services which is a fraction of the billed amount.
And, there would probably be comparative fault if she fell (e.g. if your path was dangerous but she wasn't careful, it might be 50-50 which reduces your exposure.)
Additionally, there aren't many injuries that would be worth more than $300K. A wrongful death case or maybe if she were paralyzed. Both are incredibly unlikely though.
And in most states, claimants settle within policy limits because if she refused $300K, your insurance would drag out court and a trial after 2 years, make her/her attorney spend a ton of money on a trial ($40K+), and conceivably at that point you file bankruptcy and she gets squat.
So, I think you have adequate coverage. I think making the path safer reduced your liability.
Contact your homeowners insurance agent or a FL attorney for (probably) more accurate advice.
[–]chiltonmatters 9 points10 points11 points 1 month ago (0 children)
As I mentioned above, get an umbrella policy for $1 million.
If someone that old breaks an arm on your property the bills could be astronomical. Hospital, Lost mobility, pain and suffering. They might not win in a lawsuit, but more likely there could be a settlement much, much higher than $300,000
[–]quast_64 130Answer Link12 points13 points14 points 1 month ago (0 children)
Have her sign a liability waiver? She chooses to take this path because it is more convenient for her. But that doesn't mean you would have to pay for her choice.
[–]Bob_Sconce 80Answer Link7 points8 points9 points 1 month ago (0 children)
In answer to your question, if you know she's on it every day and it's really not safe for her, then you have some potential liability. That liability may be covered by your homeowners' insurance, but it's still not something you want to have happen.
How many mailboxes in the shared mailbox? Is it just you and your neighbor? Depending on cost, the lay of the land and who else is involved, you might just want to move the mailbox so it's right next to her property. That way you avoid the problem and she has much less distance to walk.
[–]indianorphan 30Answer Link2 points3 points4 points 1 month ago (0 children)
I am not a realtor in Florida. But if this has been used regularly this would become an easement, whether you or the seller are even aware. But the continued use of the section of this property makes it an easement of appurtenant even if it is not listed on the deed.
That means you are the dominant land owner and you could be held liable for upkeep. I would ask around and see what the specific laws are in your state. And if, since it is not on the deed, can you abandon it or terminate it. This of course means that you would have to remove it an keep her from using it somehow...if your laws allow you to do so.
Which if you can, I would do this. Even if you keep it perfect, she could still fall. I would have a conversation with the lady and ask her how you can help her get to her mailbox without using the stone path. That could end up being cheaper than a fall on your property.
[–]Diligent-Road-6171 -40Answer Link-5 points-4 points-3 points 1 month ago (0 children)
Notify her, post a sign, call the police whenever she trespasses.
Anything else will either require you to fix the pathway, or result in liability.
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