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Ho ho - oh no! Santa slip and fall: are you liable?

You’ve stayed up until 2 in the morning wrapping presents for your kids, who may or may not appreciate that you’ve lined the ends of the wrapping paper up so the pattern repeats itself perfectly. You’re drinking the last of the coffee you’ve depended on to get you thus far.

That’s when you hear it: the alarmingly resonate clatter of something on your roof, followed by a soft thud just outside your window. How are going to explain to the kids Santa didn’t get presents under your tree? Then you start to realize, that’s the least of your worries, because you’re now wondering if the north pole firm of Elf, Elf & Elf is going to foreclose on your home and take the kids’ college funds because Christmas’s biggest asset just fell off your roof.

If Santa falls off your roof, are you liable?

Premise liability rules determine the level of care you must provide someone who is on your property. Generally, there are three different classes people fall into when they’re on your property:

  • Invitee (“requested:” they were invited on your property, especially for a business transaction)

  • Licensee (“permitted:” they’re allowed on your property)

  • Trespasser (they’re not permitted on your property)

You owe the highest duty to an invitee - you have to warn them about any known hazards. This, of course, makes sense. You know your property better and you don’t want them to get hurt.

You owe the lowest duty to a trespasser - they shouldn’t be on your property, why should they get to hurt you for slipping in falling. Still, you can’t really go booby-trapping your property (sorry Kevin McCallister).

And of course, a licensee falls in the middle.

You also need to factor in assumption and delegation of risk. For example, if you hire a guy to check your property for mole holes and he falls into a mole hole, you’re probably not liable.

Santa’s Class

So to know if you’re on the hook, you’ve got to ask: was Santa an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser?

It would depend on your actions. Santa’s lawyer would argue that if you put up a Christmas tree and wanted presents under it, if you set out milk and cookies on a plate, or if you kids wrote Santa a letter, those all constitute an invitation, making him an invitee. So of course you had a duty to rake the snow and make sure your roof was dry, or at least warn Santa where the slippery spots were.

Real EstateMichael Kilkenny