Liability Of An Exterminator For Injuries Caused By Its Operations

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 Can An Exterminator Be Liable for Injuries as a Result of Their Operations?

An exterminator or fumigator is like any other business that provides a service. It owes its customers and the general public a duty to use reasonable care in its operations. If it causes personal injury or death to any of its customers or other members of the public, it can be liable for negligence.

What Is Negligence?

Under the law of negligence, a business owes a duty of care to its customers and others. This duty of care is a legal obligation that businesses have to conduct their operations in a reasonably safe and cautious way so as to avoid causing harm to others.

This duty of care includes taking the precautions that are necessary to protect its employees, customers, and the general public from risks that are foreseeable. Businesses that do not fulfill their duty of care can be liable for any harm to people and property that results.

Among the risks that can give rise to an exterminator’s liability for negligence are the following:

  • Motor Vehicle Accidents: Pest control business owners and their employees travel from one work site to another in the course of a workday. They spend a lot of time on the road in vehicles that may carry chemicals in liquid or gas form, bait, and pesticides that can make accidents especially harmful to everyone involved;
  • Potential for Pollution: Most exterminators regularly use chemicals that can be harmful pollutants if they are not used properly. They must be used in specified amounts and in other ways as directed by the manufacturers. If an exterminator does not follow directions as required, this can result in environmental pollution.
    • The exterminator can be liable for harm done to property, people, and pet animals;
  • Workers’ Injury or Illness: Of course, the use of pesticides, bait, and other chemicals means that workers may be injured or become ill on the job, which can present a significant potential liability for exterminators.
    • This is especially true if an injured party can show that they were not adequately trained in how to use dangerous chemicals properly or that safety measures were not followed;
  • Property Damage: This refers to damage that employees and inspectors employed by an extermination company may cause when they investigate properties for pest infestation.
    • Inspectors and employees involved in treatment must sometimes, out of necessity, work in tight spaces such as crawl spaces, basements, attics, storage cabinets, and the like.
      • They do this to find pest infestations and to treat them. In the course of doing an inspection or treatment, they can cause damage to property.

An exterminator or fumigator could also be liable under a breach of contract theory. A breach of contract comes about when one of the parties to a valid contract fails to perform as promised in the agreement.

For example, the provisions of a contract specify what each of the parties to the contract must do and how they should do it to fulfill their legal obligation. If a party does not do what the contract requires of them, and this failure causes economic loss to the other party, they have breached the contract in legal terminology.

The party that has not breached the contract may take legal action against the other party. They might seek compensatory damages for breach of contract in a lawsuit.

In the case of an exterminator, they assume the responsibility for eliminating pests, sometimes pests that are capable of doing significant damage to property. For example, termites infest wood in residential structures. If left untreated or if they are treated inadequately, they can do extensive damage to a structure that can be quite costly to repair.

An exterminator who enters into a contract to remediate termite infestation takes on a large contractual responsibility, and if they breach their contract obligation, they might be liable for breach of contract.

A contract can be breached either partially or completely. A court would also consider whether the breach was substantial or only a minor one. This helps the court determine the amount of damages the breaching party should have to pay.

Can Strict Liability Apply to an Exterminator?

Yet another theory that can serve as the basis for the liability of an exterminator or fumigator is the theory of strict liability for people or businesses who engage in an ultrahazardous activity.

An ultrahazardous activity is an activity that is inherently dangerous. In fact, it may be so dangerous that if a person engaged in an ultrahazardous activity causes injury or damage, they may be liable to the victim even if they have taken every precaution possible to prevent the risk of harm.

The victim does not have to prove that the person engaged in an ultrahazardous activity was negligent in any way. Rather, they must prove that the person engaged in the ultrahazardous activity and that they were directly harmed by it.

An exterminator is a trained professional who uses chemical treatments, bait for traps, and exclusion techniques to control pests. Their business involves the use of chemicals that can be toxic to people and pets.

Exterminators sometimes must use gasses in enclosed spaces to eliminate a particular pest. Courts have held that the use of pesticide gasses and baits that attract pests to traps or kill them when ingested are ultrahazardous activities.

Strict product liability might arise if an exterminator were to use a chemical, bait, or trap of some sort that is defective and causes injury or property damage to someone. In this case, the exterminator would be viewed as a distributor of a defective product for strict product liability purposes.

Can an Exterminator Be Held Liable to Third Parties for Injuries From Their Operations?

In addition to potential liability to a homeowner or business owner who directly employs them, an exterminator could be liable to another person in the environment where they engage in their extermination activities.

Potentially, a person who suffers personal injury or property damage could name an exterminator as a defendant in a civil lawsuit because they were injured as an invitee or licensee on premises where an exterminator has engaged in its main business activity.

Again traps used by an exterminator could be defective or could malfunction and cause injury to children or even pets who are lawfully present on certain premises where an exterminator has left them. Or children or pets could accidentally consume chemicals used in pest extermination or used as bait in traps and suffer a significant injury.

Because of the special nature of the work of an exterminator, they may include indemnification clauses or provisions in their contracts with their customers. These indemnification provisions may require their customers to give up their legal right to sue the exterminator for certain types of liability. Or, the provisions may require a homeowner to answer for any liability to invitees or licensees on their property who may sue the exterminator.

Should I Consult an Attorney About Liability of an Exterminator for Injuries From Its Operations?

If you have suffered significant personal injury or property damage because of an exterminator’s activities in a home or business, you want to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer. Your lawyer can analyze the facts of your case and determine what theory of liability might apply in your case and offer you a remedy.

Your case might well involve technical issues regarding toxic chemicals or defective traps, or other equipment if these products caused you injury or other harm. Your lawyer may well have to employ various experts to help establish the liability of the exterminator. A personal injury lawyer has the experience to identify the right experts and how to use them to your best advantage.

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