Who’s liable for an injury at an

Airbnb?

Airbnb
and similar house-sharing services can be a great way for homeowners to earn
extra cash and for travelers to enjoy the “comforts of home” while paying less
than they would for a hotel. But what happens if someone is injured at an
Airbnb-type rental?

Hotel
guests generally know that a hotel has a legal duty to keep them safe. When
guests slip on poorly maintained stairs, take a fall because a railing has come
loose, or are hit on the head by a falling shelf, they can generally sue the
hotel – and can assume that the hotel can afford to compensate them for their
injury.

But it’s
not as clear with Airbnb – and the “sharing economy” model is so new that many
of the legal issues are still being worked out.

Unfortunately,
the fact is that injuries may be much more likely to occur at an Airbnb rental
than at a hotel. Unlike a hotel, an Airbnb “host” doesn’t typically have a
full-time maintenance and housekeeping crew, employ lifeguards and night security
staff, undergo regular electrical and fire safety inspections, routinely
monitor childproofing issues, and so on.

So what
happens if someone is hurt?

You
might assume that the person could sue Airbnb itself. But the problem is that
Airbnb’s “Terms of Service” – which guests have to agree to when they sign up –
say that you can’t sue Airbnb for an injury. (Most every other home-sharing
business has a similar contract.) In theory, it might be possible for a guest
to get around this provision, but it could be very difficult.

So more
likely, the guest would sue the host for compensation.

In most
states, the guest would be considered a “business invitee” of the host. That
means that the host must exercise a very great degree of care to keep the guest
safe. In other words, an Airbnb host would likely be held to a similar legal
standard of care as a hotel, department store, or other business.

Many
hosts assume that if anything happens, they’ll be covered by their homeowner’s
insurance. But they might be surprised to discover that that’s not true. Most
homeowner’s insurance policies exclude coverage for “business activities”
operated out of a home. And presumably, renting your home for a profit is a
business activity.

Some
homeowner’s policies allow you to rent your home once a year, or for a limited
number of days per year. But even then, the insurance company might require you
to notify it of the rental in advance, or to purchase a separate endorsement.

Personal
umbrella policies might not cover a host for a business activity either.

If an
Airbnb host is a tenant rather than a homeowner, it gets even more complicated.
Some tenants have renter’s insurance, but renter’s insurance generally doesn’t
cover business activities. An injured guest might be able to sue the landlord,
but a landlord might get off the hook if he or she didn’t know the tenant was
renting the property on Airbnb, or if such rentals were prohibited in the
lease. Also, many landlords’ insurance policies exclude coverage for short-term,
home-sharing-type sublets.

Recently,
Airbnb announced that it would provide hosts with up to $1 million in liability
protection if they get sued by a guest. That’s a welcome development, but some
other home-sharing companies have not followed suit.

If you
use Airbnb or a similar service when you travel, you might want to confirm that
the host is covered by insurance. And if you’re injured, you’ll want to speak
to a lawyer right away about what options you might have for being compensated.

If
you’re a host, you’ll want to think carefully about your insurance coverage. A
lawyer may be able to help you understand your policies and what additional
protections you may need.

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