What would happen if Santa trips on a string of lights at your home and takes a header down the chimney? If he is injured, you might be liable. What would happen if the mail carrier trips on a string of lights or a decorative item and suffers injury? Again, you might be liable. What if a neighborhood child decides to play with your decorations and suffers injury? Yet again, you might be liable.
Christmas decorations can be beautiful. They also can be a bit over the top. The highlight of your display might be simple and innocuous to you, but it might be dangerous to a child or someone else who comes on your property. Whether you have a display with many moving objects or just lights; whether you have a modest use of lights or your lights can be seen from the space station, they can be dangerous.
Dangers for Homeowners
There are some obvious dangers associated with holiday decorating for homeowners. The most common accidents for homeowners include:
- Injuries caused by lifting heavy objects without sufficient help.
- Menorah fires, candle fires.
- Falling from a ladder or roof.
- Faulty Christmas lights (best rule of thumb: replace every three years), faulty outlets, frayed cords.
- Dangerous ornaments or decorative items.
If the items you purchase for decorating are defective (when new) or dangerous, and someone is injured by them, you might want to call us to discuss a possible products liability action.
Dangers for Others
Holiday decorations can pose several dangers. It is possible that you could end up in court if someone is injured.
First, you should think about your neighbors. If you have not done so recently, you might want to make a call or check the website of your city or county. If you are blasting music you might be violating a noise ordinance. If the lights are so bright that you are blinding drivers on your road, you might be creating a road hazard. You might simply be irritating your neighbors with your display, whether it is a giant blow-up Santa or two million flashing lights. Your display might be attracting so much additional traffic through the neighborhood that residents cannot drive to or from their homes. If there is an overpowering display, it might be considered impossible to ignore. In that case, you might be the cause of rear-enders and fender-benders.
Second, you must think about anyone who might come on your property. Do your decorations present a safety hazard for people who are invited? Are they dangerous for a trespasser? Perhaps most important, would a young child be safe in your yard? It is up to you, the homeowner, to use only safe decorations. If any decorative item could be dangerous, think long and hard before you set it up or plug it in. Always ensure that driveways and sidewalks are clear for pedestrians and visitors. Even a trespasser could try to sue for damages by arguing that your display is an open invitation for people to wander through your yard and your decorations. That would put you at risk.
During the holiday season of 2012, roughly 15,000 injuries were seen in emergency departments due to people tripping over cords. Thirteen percent of those injuries were to children. Half of the injuries to children were electrical burns to the mouth.
Another cause of injury that is often overlooked is cuts from glass ornaments that are broken or other cuts from broken ornaments and decorative items. We often think these are very minor injuries, but in the hands of a child, broken glass is quite dangerous.
Here are a few tips to help you keep the holiday season safe for your family and your visitors.
- Check all lights. Discard any lights with broken wires. They can start a fire very quickly.
- Use a sturdy ladder (ideally a non-conductive ladder), with someone holding it.
- Shovel and de-ice sidewalks and driveways to prevent slip and fall incidents.
- Keep walkways lit well so visitors can see where they are going and spot hazards.
- Use proper and sturdy hooks and hangers to prevent items from falling on someone.
- If you have a live or fresh-cut tree, use the correct stand and add water frequently (the drier the tree the greater the hazard).
- Never leave a fire or a candle unattended. Candles can be knocked over easily.
- Check for trip and fall hazards inside and outside your home. Ensure that all cords and other items are out of the way or taped down to prevent tripping.
- Use extra care when children will be present. Remove choking hazards from reach. Think about which tree ornaments can or cannot be reached by a child or a pet. The safest approach might be to have an adult watching every child to prevent injury.
- Be careful where potentially dangerous gifts are placed.
Please use appropriate discretion with foods or items that could be dangerous to your pets. Teach them that electrical cords are not for chewing. Remind your guests of foods that are harmful to pets or ask them to refrain from feeding your pets.
Finally, check your homeowner’s insurance policy. If an accident happens, you need to know what your insurance will or will not cover. Be sure you know what your liability will be if Santa trips on a string of lights and takes a header down the chimney.