The Fine Print – Concerned About Holiday Mishaps?


“Dear Attorney:

My husband’s brother wants to go “Clark Griswold” and hang a ridiculous amount of Christmas lights at our house this year. I am concerned about the safety issues as I have seen the movie 10+ times and I know just how clumsy he can be.  If something goes wrong, who is responsible for any injury or damages to him or my property?” – Not Trying to Be a Grinch


Dear Not Trying to Be a Grinch,

Many stories abound of people getting hurt or property damage occurring while they are hanging Christmas lights both inside and outside of their residences.

It’s important to know that if something does go wrong, your brother-in-law, aka “Clark”, may not be able to collect on medical bills and you may not be able to redeem the cost of any damage to your property. There are two primary defenses to a civil claim of negligence, which is what a lawsuit for an injury or property damage is based on.

In North Carolina, we are a contributory negligence and assumption of the risk state.  Contributory negligence means that if you are even slightly at fault for the injury you sustained then you may not be able to collect any damages against the offending party. However, even if you were not at fault, you still may be found to have “assumed risk” because of the task you were completing.

Assumption of the risk means you “knew or should have known” the act was dangerous when you “assumed” the risk that you might get hurt. For example, climbing to the top of a ladder is an activity that has some risk. So, when Clark does so, he is assuming the risk that he might fall off of the ladder. If one of the lights were to explode while they are being hung, this would be considered a risk that Clark did not knowingly assume, because you do not normally assume that lights are going to explode when being hung.

There are some exceptions to the contributory negligence and assumption of the risk defenses, but it is best to speak with a licensed attorney about the specific circumstances.

If your husband’s brother wants to hang enough Christmas lights to illuminate a small city, take simple precautions to prevent any accidents or injuries. No one wants to be in a position where they are arguing over medical bills with family during the holidays . . . the conversations about politics should be more than enough.

S. Hunt Harris, Esq. practices civil litigation, business litigation, and addresses corporate law matters at Weaver | Budd, Attorneys at Law. To schedule a consultation with him, please call (704) 841-0760. The information contained in this article is general in nature and not to be taken as legal advice, nor to establish an attorney-client relationship between the reader and S. Hunt Harris or Weaver | Budd, Attorneys at Law.

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