Abandoned homes often fall into disrepair, becoming an eyesore to the neighbors. However, they can also present a hazard. If you accessed an abandoned property and hurt yourself in the process, you may have a case for damages against the property owner. Here's what you need to do to obtain compensation for your injuries.
Determine If You Have a Case
Before you spend time and money tracking down the person who owns the property, you need to first determine if you can bring a lawsuit against him or her. There are several things that may work against you, beginning with the fact you were on the property in the first place.
In general, property owners are not required to keep the land or home in good repair for trespassers. However, they are required to post notice of conditions that could cause injury or death, but this obligation typically only applies to artificial conditions caused by the homeowner. For instance, if the owner had a booby trap on his or her property, he or she would be required to put up a sign notifying people there is a hazard there.
So if you were on the property without permission, you may have a difficult time collecting damages because of this lack of duty towards you as a trespasser. However, if you were on the property upon the request of someone connected to the home, the nature of your job automatically gives you permission (e.g. law enforcement, mailperson), or you entered the property to handle an emergency situation (e.g. rescue a child who fell into the empty pool), you may be able to get around this problem.
Be aware, even though you may have accessed the property legally, you still need to show you took precautions to avoid injury. People have a duty to prevent their own injuries. If you fell because you were not paying attention (e.g. texting while walking), you might not be able to collect damages. On the other hand, if you fell into a sinkhole that suddenly opened under your feet because of an underground leak, then you would have a viable cause for being compensated for your injuries.
Locate the Owners
The second thing you need to do is locate the owner of the abandoned home. This is often easier said than done, especially with so many homes in foreclosure these days. However, there are a couple of ways you can go about finding the homeowner. Certain real estate records are considered public record, and property tax records is one of them. Many cities let people search these records either in person or on their websites. This can tell you who the last person was that paid taxes on the property, which is more than likely the owner.
Another option for locating the owners is to hire a skip-tracing service. These companies do the leg work required to find the owner of an abandoned home. However, they charge a fee for the service. It may be worth it though, if you're not getting anywhere on your own or want to get the issue resolved as quickly as possible.
Send a Demand for Payment
Once you've located the homeowner, send a letter demanding payment for your injuries. Start the letter with a description of what led to your injuries, and follow up with an itemized statement of the damages and losses you sustained as a result. To save time, include copies of your bills as evidence of your damages, and be certain to include your contact information so the person can get back to you.
A couple of things may happen. The homeowner may contact you with questions and agree to pay your losses if he or she feels the situation warrants that action. Most likely, though, the person may deny liability, especially if the home is in the process of being repossessed by the bank. In this latter possibility, you may be better off handing the case over to an attorney who can advise the homeowner why they're liable and negotiate a fair settlement for you.
For more information about this issue or help with a case, contact an attorney.