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Injured at an Airbnb: what to do when your trip goes south

Airbnb is an internet-based company that has quickly risen through the ranks of travel booking sites as one of the most popular options for accommodations around the world. In Canada, the cumulative number of active listings in the Montreal market has risen to over 14,000 in 2016, up from just 2,900 listings in 2014.[1]  In Toronto, cumulative active listings climbed to nearly 10,000 over that same period.[2] The business model is simple; to generate revenue, hosts can list anything from a single room to their entire property, while guests can search the site to find the space that best fits their needs. It seems like a match made in heaven, until something goes wrong.

High Injury Risks

In 2017, four young professionals from London rented an Airbnb in Brighton, England. What was supposed to be a weekend away turned into a nightmare when the balcony of the Airbnb property collapsed, causing all four to suffer very serious injuries.[3] Months later, Airbnb had not responded to the friends’ complaints regarding this incident. In fact, both the owner of the property and Airbnb denied any liability for the incident or their injuries.

Similarly, in 2017, in Louisiana, Andrew Callard fell ten feet after the stairs at the property Mr. Carroll rented through Airbnb collapsed underneath him. Mr. Callard commenced a tort claim against the owners of the rental as well as Airbnb. The Judge held that under Louisiana law, the Defendant Airbnb owed no duty to Mr. Callard and that Airbnb had no knowledge of the defect that allegedly caused Plaintiffs’ injuries.[4]

So how safe is it to rent an Airbnb? And what can you do in the event that you are injured while staying in one of these properties?

A recent study published in the United States revealed that many Airbnb properties do not contain proper safety equipment such as smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers and first aid kits. Because these properties are not held to the commercial standards in place for the hotel industry, there is no way to verify that these Airbnb listings actually have the necessary safety equipment to protect their guests, even if it is advertised on the site.[5] According to a 2018 report by the Canadian Angus Reid Institute, 54% of Canadians surveyed said that they would like to see Airbnb properties regulated in the same way as hotels.[6]

Until this happens, who is liable in the event that a guest is injured while staying at an Airbnb?

Host Liability

Airbnb advertises extensive liability coverage for users who sign up to act as hosts on their site. The company provides automatic insurance coverage for hosts, which includes primary liability coverage for up to $1 million per occurrence in the event of third party claims of bodily injury or property damage.[7]

There are a number of exclusions in the Airbnb Host Policy that eliminate coverage for hosts.  This list includes any liability arising from:

  1. Intentional acts, including
    1. Assault and Battery or
    2. Sexual Abuse or Molestation - (by the host or any other insured party),
  2. Loss of Earnings,
  3. Personal and Advertising Injury,
  4. Fungi or Bacteria,
  5. Chinese Drywall,
  6. Communicable Diseases
  7. Acts of Terrorism,
  8. Product Liability,
  9. Pollution and
  10. Asbestos, Lead or Silica.

If a host is excluded from coverage under Airbnb’s policy, who could the injured guest turn to, to recover for their loss?

Occupiers Liability

In the event that Airbnb refuses to provide coverage to a host after their guest is injured, that guest will have to file a claim against the host personally. Occupiers’ liability refers to the duties that occupiers owe to individuals who enter their premises. Ontario’s Occupiers’ Liability Act (the “Act”) supersedes the common law by establishing the duty of care in occupiers’ liability cases.

The Act defines the following terms, for ease of use: “occupier” means a person who is in physical possession of premises, or a person who has responsibility for and control over the condition of premises or the activities there carried on, or control over persons allowed to enter the premises, despite the fact that there is more than one occupier of the same premises.

Should the Airbnb host policy not cover the injured guests’ losses, the Occupiers Liability Act will function as a safety net to ensure that the host does not escape liability. However, this raises another issue that could prevent the injured guest from turning to the host’s home insurance policy to recover for their loss.

A regular homeowner’s policy generally won’t cover anything beyond the very first time the policyholder rents out or shares their home – after that, most brokers treat it as a commercial enterprise. And while owners can contract through the services they’re using to connect with guests, those services come with strict rules and regulations.[8] Increasingly however, insurance companies are beginning to offer short-term rental policies to Ontarians who seek to list their property on Airbnb, to account for this gap in the insurance industry.

So what does this mean to Hosts and Guests?

The bottom line is that renting an Airbnb may not be as safe and stress-free as hosts and guests may believe. Hosts should seek out short-term rental insurance policies that would protect them in the event that a guest is injured during a stay on their property. Likewise, injured guests should contact a qualified personal injury lawyer who can help them navigate this complicated area of the law and ensure that they are adequately compensated for their losses.

[1] Airdna Marketminder, https://www.airdna.co/market-data/app/ca/quebec/montreal/overview.

[2] Airdna Marketminder, https://www.airdna.co/market-data/app/ca/ontario/toronto/overview.

[3]Booth, Robert, and Dan Newling. "Airbnb Denies Liability after Guests Plunge Two Storeys from Balcony." The Guardian, November 29, 2016. Accessed July 15, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/nov/29/airbnb-denies-liability-after-guests-plunge-two-storeys-from-balcony.

[4] Dickerson, Thomas A., Hon. "Airbnb Guest Severely Injured Traversing Stairs in Home of Airbnb Host: Is Airbnb Liable?" Eturbo News, June 21, 2018. Accessed July 17, 2018. https://www.eturbonews.com/226041/airbnb-guest-severely-injured-traversing-stairs-in-home-of-airbnb-host-is-airbnb-liable.

[5]  Ducharme, Jamie. "Renting an Airbnb Could Be Risky For Your Safety, a New Study Finds." Time Magazine, May 8, 2018. Accessed July 15, 2018. http://time.com/5265991/airbnb-safety-risks/.

[6] Hirst, Christine. "How Airbnb Is Changing the Home Insurance Industry." Canadian Underwriter, February 21, 2017. Accessed July 15, 2018. https://www.canadianunderwriter.ca/inspress/airbnb-changing-home-insurance-industry/.

[7] Airbnb Host Protection Insurance Summary. Airbnb.

[8] https://www.canadianunderwriter.ca/inspress/airbnb-changing-home-insurance-industry/

http://angusreid.org/airbnb-short-term-rentals/

 

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