Cottage ownership comes with many rewards, but it also comes with some legal risks. Accidents and injuries can happen in the cottage, on the dock, or on surrounding waterfront property. These accidents can expose a cottage owner to legal liability to the injured person. Here are some tips for avoiding personal liability as a cottage owner.
Renting Out Your Cottage
If you rent your cottage out, the Occupiers’ Liability Act requires that you keep the property reasonably safe for the renters. What is “reasonably safe” will depend on the particular circumstances surrounding the injury and the condition of the property involved. However, if you are aware of a dangerous condition, do not address it, and it subsequently causes an accident, you will be held responsible. Failing to regularly inspect the property to identify and repair potentially unsafe conditions can also result in liability.
Have Proper Insurance
Make certain that your insurance company knows that your cottage is not used all year long or during the week. If you rent it out, tell your insurance company. Failure to advise your insurer that the property is not occupied full time or is rented out can lead to a complete loss of coverage in the case of any loss, including theft, water damage, or fire.
Combining activities like swimming or boating and drinking is inherently risky and this increases your duty to supervise your guests. Your level of responsibility will depend on the relationship between you and your guests. You are under a lesser obligation to supervise adult guests who bring their own boat or equipment, or who go swimming by themselves.
However, if you are in a position to supervise young children or teens, you have an obligation to keep them reasonably safe. Again what is “reasonably safe” will depend on the particular circumstances. If you are aware of dangerous water conditions, activities or situations, you must address them or you could be held responsible for any resulting injury.
Alcohol or Drugs
As a social host, you are generally not responsible for the activities of adults once they leave your premises. This applies even if they have been drinking and subsequently get into an accident. However, it is always best to observe your guests before they attempt to drive away and invite any who appear to be intoxicated to take a cab or stay the night.
If you allow minors to consume alcohol or recreational drugs, and an accident occurs resulting in injuries to them or to third parties, you can be held liable.
If you own a boat be sure to check your insurance policies. Your boat may not be insured under your house policy, seasonal property, or auto policy unless you specifically tell your insurance company. Make certain that you have liability insurance for your boat and that, if someone else drives your boat and an accident occurs, your insurance will cover it.
Activities like boating, water skiing, tubing, wakeboarding, etc. are fundamentally dangerous. If you are operating the boat towing someone else, you are responsible for their safety. You are also responsible for injuries caused by faulty equipment and negligent supervision if you have allowed someone else to operate the boat in a reckless manner.
The best protection for a cottage owner is a combination of care, consideration, and insurance coverage. Be aware of potential dangers on the cottage property and fix them. Have rules that prohibit unsafe activities and enforce them. These protective measures can provide security for yourself, your loved ones, and your family vacation home.