If you are like most people, you very well may find yourself in homes owned by other people. These more likely than not include family and friends. However, you may find yourself in a home of a person not directly connected with you. For example, you may attend an open house or arrange a home tour at residence for sale if you’re are house hunting. Nearly always, your visit to another person’s residence occurs without incident. Unfortunately, there are times when a person is in another’s residence when that individual is injured. The most common type of injury in such a situation is a result of a slip and fall accident. There are also incidents in which a person is exposed to a dangerous biohazard when at a home of another. If you’ve found yourself exposed to a dangerous biohazard in the residence of another, you may wonder what legal remedies you have.
What Is a Biohazard?
Before discussing legal remedies when exposed to a biohazard, it is important to understand what is meant by this term. A biohazard is defined as a biological substance that has the propensity to cause illness in humans, including serious or deadly disease. Biohazards are classified into four general categories:
- Other microorganisms
How Can I Be Exposed to a Biohazard in Someone’s Home?
The reality is the odds of being exposed to a biohazard in another person’s home is not significant – but it is possible. If you end up exposed to a biohazard and infected with some type of disease or illness, the consequences can be devastating and even deadly.
We present a hypothetical situation in which a homeowner has or had a problem with mice in the house. One way in which disease can be transferred by mice is through droppings. Although not a widespread disease at this time, one germ that can be contained in mice droppings is the hantavirus. If a person gets infected by the hantavirus, that individual can end up afflicted with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. About 33 percent of people who develop hantavirus pulmonary syndrome will die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hantavirus can survive in mouse droppings for an extended period of time, even after they dry out. When mouse droppings dry out, the crumble very easily. Mice have a tendency to defecate in HVAC systems, including ductwork. If droppings containing hantavirus end up in a residential HVAC system, the eventually crumble, creating dust. The virus-containing dust is then spread throughout the residence when the HVAC system engages.
A visitor to a residence can breathe the contaminated dust. By doing so, a person ends up infected with hantavirus.
Homeowner’s Legal Duty to Keep Visitors Safe
A homeowner has a legal duty to maintain his or her residence in a reasonably safe condition. The mouse droppings hypothetical is used as an illustration here as well.
A homeowner reasonably can be expected to know his or her home is infested with mice. If a homeowner doesn’t actually know, the question becomes whether a reasonable person would have known. If a homeowner knew or reasonably should have known, of a mouse infestation, that person has a legal duty to a visitor to protect against the dangers associated with the presence of mice, including disease.
If a homeowner has dealt with a mouse infestation by hiring an exterminator, that individual has the added task of elimination the biohazards that remain after a mouse infestation. That includes safely and thoroughly eliminating droppings. If this doesn’t occur, a homeowner is not only putting his or her self (and family) at risk but visitors to the residence as well.
Actual Injuries Must Be Demonstrated
In addition to a legal duty on the part of a homeowner, you must demonstrate that you suffered actual injuries or damages as the result of exposure to a biohazard in a residence. With the mouse droppings example in mind, contracting hantavirus and then suffering hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a clear example of suffering injuries and damages as a result of a biohazard exposure in a person’s home.
Even if a person never contracts hantavirus but suffers understandable mental anguish and emotional distress as a result of the exposure, this can be considered injuries and damages for the purposes of a legal claim in most states.
Time Limits to Take Legal Action
All states have what is known as a statute of limitations, a law that sets a specific timeline within which you must file a lawsuit for personal injuries. In most states, a lawsuit must be filed within two or three years from the date of the injury in a personal injury case. In the case of exposure to a biohazard in someone else’s home, the time starts running either on the date of the exposure or when you become aware of that exposure (provided discovering the exposure when you did is considered reasonable).
Because of the complexities of this type of personal injury or wrongful death case, you are wise to retain the assistance of skilled, experienced legal counsel to represent you in a claim or lawsuit. A typical attorney will schedule an initial consultation with you at no charge. In addition, a personal injury or wrongful death lawyer usually charge what is known as a contingency fee. Under this type of fee arrangement, you pay no fee unless you prevail in the claim or case.