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, on surrounding waterfront property, or on three water. 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 possibly 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.
Combining activities like swimming or boating and drinking or consuming recreational drugs is inherently risky and this combination 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 other 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 or taking drugs while at your cottage and subsequently get into an accident. Liability could attach if you provide the intoxicants and knowing let an impaired guest drive away. It is always best to observe your guests before they attempt to leave and insist that any who appear to be intoxicated take a cab or stay the night. Let your guests know in advance that no one who is impaired will be allowed to drive home, even if it means taking their keys or calling the police to report an impaired driver.
You may be held liable if you allow an impaired person to operate your boat or watercraft and they cause an accident. Even an impaired passenger may have a claim against a boat owner who knowingly allowed them to take a ride with an impaired operator.
If you allow minors to consume alcohol or recreational drugs and they cause an accident resulting in injuries to them or to third parties, you can expect to be held liable.
If you own a boat be sure to check your insurance policies. Your boat may not be insured under your house, seasonal property, or auto policies unless you specifically make the necessary arrangements with your insurance company. Make certain that you have liability insurance for your boat and that even if someone else drives it and an accident occurs your insurance will cover it.
Activities like boating, water skiing, tubing, wakeboarding, etc. are fundamentally dangerous. So make sure that your boat and any towing equipment are in good working order. If you are operating the boat towing someone else, you are responsible for their safety so drive carefully and have a third person act as spotter.
You can be held responsible for negligent supervision if you allow someone else to operate your boat in a reckless manner and an accident happens.
Have Proper Insurance
Get enough insurance coverage to protect your personal assets from a claim by a seriously injured person. Damage awards well in excess of $1 million are possible if an injured person can no longer work or requires extensive attendant care. Ask your broker or agent about an umbrella policy that can increase the insurance limits on your house, car, and cottage.
If your cottage is only used intermittently or seasonally make certain that your insurance company knows that it is not used year round 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 denial of coverage in the case of any loss, including personal injury, theft, water damage, or fire.
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 measure can provide security for yourself, your loved ones, and your family vacation home.
This blog post was written in 2018 by Edward (Ted) Masters, a member of the Disability Insurance Claims and Personal Injury teams, and updated on June 13, 2022. He can be reached at 613-566-2064 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.