The Legal Insider
In this issue:
Traveling for Spring Break 101
Calling all Spring Breakers!! Whether you are heading to South Padre Island, Miami Beach, or you’re going south of the border, listen up. Before you put on your beer goggles and wind up on the next episode of Locked Up Abroad, there are a few considerations that are worth some thought. If you are going to be traveling domestically or abroad for spring break, here are a few suggestions to help make your vacation from the books safe and free from legal trouble:
- Travel Insurance: Once you leave the U.S. it’s unlikely that your student health policy will cover you when you need it most. Check into a travel insurance policy that covers injury, illness, and emergency evacuation. From rip tides and Montezuma’s Revenge to falling off a moped, spring break never disappoints, and you should be prepared if an unfortunate event comes your way.
- Bring a Copy of Your Passport: Always have a copy of your passport when you travel, and keep it separately from the passport itself.
- Don’t Trash the Hotel: If you break it, you buy it. Whether the hotel is on your credit card, your friend’s card, or the parents’ plastic, if hotel property is damaged, you can bet that you will be liable (and it won’t be cheap). Not only will you have to pay for it, but it is highly likely that the police will get involved. If you are abroad, you will soon discover that foreign jail is a far cry from Camp Cupcake.
- Different Countries/States Means Different Laws: Always know the laws of where you are going. Just because it is legal to walk around with a margarita in Key West, doesn’t mean you can do so elsewhere. Now that marijuana is legal in many states, don’t make the mistake of assuming it’s legal everywhere. Also don’t make the mistake of thinking the police of other countries function the same way they do in the States. Be respectful to your environment and to the people who live there.
- Be Smart: First and foremost, drink responsibly and keep your wits about you. Always wear sunscreen; far too many vacations have been utterly ruined on the first day from sun poisoning. Remember that there is safety in numbers, and those who stray from the pack may wake up in a strange bathtub with one kidney.
In all seriousness, don’t become a tragedy. Natalee Holloway, nor the people who have died from tainted booze in Mexico never thought their spring break would also be their last vacation. Be safe, be smart, and enjoy yourself responsibly.
How to Have a Safe St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t always known as a drinking holiday. To the surprise of no one, Americans wearing “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” t-shirts turned March 17th into a green beer guzzle fest, while running around pinching people who failed to don green clothing. St. Paddy’s Day is a festive one, but it’s also infamous in police departments and emergency rooms nationwide.
Though dying rivers green, pub crawling, and parading down streets with costumed leprechauns is a good time, it is also a day to take some precautions. St. Patrick’s Day is one of the deadliest days of the year on our roads. If you get behind the wheel after downing one too many pints of Guinness, you run the risk of killing someone and/or getting arrested for driving under the influence. Just don’t do it. Call a cab, or a sober friend, and get wherever you’re going in one piece.
Now that we’ve established that there will be no driving, try to mind your p’s and q’s in public. You certainly don’t want to be on the losing end of a public drunkenness ticket, nor do you want to spend the night in the drunk tank. Eat before you go out and pace yourself. Doing so will lessen the likelihood of engaging in destructive behavior like destroying someone’s property and becoming a defendant in a civil case.
A few years ago, the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s annual “Blarney Blowout” party turned into drunken debauchery with 73 arrests for property damage, sexual assault, and other serious crimes. A scene like this is one you do not want a rap sheet for, nor do you want to be wrongly accused because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You may also want to keep your fingers to yourself. An employer in Lenawee County Michigan pinched his employee’s backside as she leaned over to grab a file. His excuse was that she wasn’t wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day. Needless to say, she won her civil suit.
Since the holiday falls on a Saturday this year, you may be away from predatory pinches at work, and are hosting a kegs ’n eggs party at your house. If so, remember that as a social host, you may be held liable for injuries or other unforeseen events that happen with your guests. Keep yourself and guests safe by not over-serving, and whatever you do, don’t serve alcohol to minors. Enjoy yourself this St. Patrick’s Day, and may the luck of the Irish be always with you. Sláinte.
Spring Awakens: Liability for Slushy Snow
Accidents happen. No one likes getting bits of gravel and icy slush in their hands or knees from unexpectedly falling on a slushy sidewalk. Certainly, no one likes getting sued for said slush, either. Spring brings warmer temperatures by day, yet cold temperatures linger at night. This temperature tug-of-war creates dangerous conditions for pedestrians, and expensive consequences for negligent property owners.
As a business owner or a homeowner, it is your responsibility to take measures that prevent harm to others. Generally, property owners are given a “reasonable amount of time” to clear snow or ice that accumulates on their property following a storm. This means removing snow and ice from sidewalks, parking lots, and any other walkways that customers or guests may use. Business owners should also take care to mop-up moisture tracked in from the storm so as to prevent indoor slip and fall liability claims.
Property maintenance is an often overlooked, but important concern for business owners. For instance, a leaking gutter could pose a danger the following day for pedestrians as nighttime temperatures drop to freezing. Trees and shrubs also need to be maintained as the weight from snow and ice may cause them to snap and fall on unsuspecting pedestrians, cars, or any other unforeseen variable. In places where ice, snow, and slush have been removed, it is a good idea to mark the area with signs advising people to walk with caution.
If an accident does occur, be sure to make every effort to help the person, and call for assistance if necessary. You will also want to contact an attorney as soon as possible. It never hurts to cover your bases, especially when liability comes into play. If possible, document the scene with photographs, witness statements, and video. Accidents happen, but with preparation and taking all necessary precautions, the likelihood of being sued will lessen and you won’t have to worry about wintry conditions until next fall.
How to Have a Safe Easter
Easter is right around the corner, which means that across America, children of all ages will be scouring their parents’ backyard for gifts from the Easter bunny. Your family, as well as neighborhood children, might be crawling and looking in places that they typically would leave alone. Which means they will be looking in places you might have long forgotten.
What if a child from the neighborhood wanders into an area that is dangerous, and not remembering your strict instructions to stay away? Will you be liable if they get hurt? Here are some things to keep in mind to ensure you and your loved ones have a safe and happy Easter:
- Attractive Nuisance: under personal injury law, there is a theory of law called “Attractive Nuisance.” So even if you mark the area as a dangerous or explicitly tell children that the area is off-limits, if the area is so tempting you can still be held liable. Attractive nuisances can be anything from a pool or an abandoned well on your property. You can protect yourself by making completely inaccessible and safe. For example, a pool can have a tall gate with a lock and a locked pool cover, or a well can have iron grating over it that is impossible to bypass.
- Premise Liability: if you know you have something like a loosen step on the porch, a slippery walkway, or any other thing that needs to be mended and you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to take care of it. Under premise liability, if the owner knows or should have known of any danger but doesn’t make the effort to fix or at least warn the guest, then the homeowner will be liable for any injury the guest suffers because of the danger.
- Liability for Pets: if your little lap dog wouldn’t hurt a flea, unless a new person comes in the house, be prepared to take responsibility. If you believe your dog would even be upset by a large number of guests or any new visitors, then take the necessary precautions to make sure your pet won’t attack or bite. While we like to think the best of our pets, the reality is that new and stressful situations can make them do things we never could imagine. To ensure the safety of you, your guests, and your furry friend, secure your pet in another room where no guests will go or keep them in a secluded area where they can be comfortable so your guests can be comfortable.
Of course, there are a lot of simple steps you can take to have a safe Easter. Like, make sure you hide the eggs in easy to reach/safe places, so children don’t have to climb a ladder or up a tree. While it is tempting to hide the eggs in a way that it will take hours to find, be sure to avoid areas that might have spiders or snakes where a little hand can be accidentally bitten.