A fatal Massachusetts premises injury resulted earlier this week when a backyard deck that a homeowner was working on suddenly collapsed, crushing him underneath it. George Carroll, 78, of Melrose was working on the deck when it suddenly became detached from the house. Firefighters responding to the scene could not lift the heavy deck off the victim, and had to use inflatable airbags to gain access to him. Carroll was transported by ambulance to Melrose-Wakefield Hospital, but unfortunately, it was too late and Mr. Carroll was pronounced dead.
The reason why this incident is posted here is because it offers a powerful cautionary note in the area of law known as Massachusetts premises liability. In this incident, the homeowner himself was the one who suffered the fatal injuries, and therefore his estate cannot sue another person or a third party to recover for his death or pain and suffering. If the victim had been visiting another person’s home, and suffered the injuries at that person’s property, that person or his estate could sue the homeowner where the injury occurred, for negligence. Typically, the negligence alleged would be a failure to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition for persons such as the victim. In the event of such a claim, the homeowners’ insurance policy of the person who owned the property would, assuming liability were acknowledged, provide coverage for the claimed damages according to the policy limits. If the owner of the property did not have a homeowner’s insurance policy or other liability insurance, through which coverage would be available, things become more difficult. Without liability coverage, any settlement or jury verdict that a plaintiff might secure, would have to be collected directly from the homeowner’s personal assets. That process involves attaching real estate and other assets, and becomes much more complicated and time-consuming.
As a Westwood, Massachusetts premises liability attorney, I can tell you that the primary lesson from this very unfortunate incident is this: Whether you own property or rent, always carry a policy of liability insurance on the property, to protect you if others are injured on your premises. While the victim in this tragic incident in Melrose this week was the homeowner himself, it often happens the other way around. And lesson number two: When making repairs to house and building structures such as stairways and decks, always employ a licensed construction professional. Structures like these are notorious for causing injuries. Ask for a copy of the contractor’s trade license, and secure several customer references. Work like this must be done in accordance with local building codes. If you “do-it-yourself” and the finished work does not meet building codes, it could give your insurer an excuse to deny coverage.
If you or someone you care about has been injured while visiting another’s home or premises, contact us for a free consultation. With over two decades handling these types of claims, we can provide you with the experience and guidance you need to determine your legal options.