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How can you avoid liability for backyard barbecue accidents?

For much of the nation, summer is the time for backyard barbecues, fire pits and s'mores.

It's also a time of increased danger and liability for homeowners -- although many may not be aware of the risks they're taking by hosting the family picnic, neighborhood barbecue or even an intimate gathering over a glowing fire pit in the backyard.

Social guests are considered welcomed visitors -- which means property owners owe a high degree of responsibility for their safety. In general, that means that the hosts of backyard barbecues and other summer parties have to give a reasonable warning about any known hazards -- and take a reasonable amount of care to make sure that the property is generally safe in the first place.

Consider the following tips if you're planning a backyard barbecue:

1. Limit access to any fire.

When a grill comes out, it seems like everyone's an instant expert on the best way to cook a burger or ribs. Tell everyone to back off and let the designated cook handle the job. Same with cooking s'mores over the fire pit. Put one or two people in charge and keep other people back. That way, you don't have to worry as much about accidental burns.

2. Serve everything at the right temperature.

This basically means making sure that cold items stay cold (so pack the coleslaw in some ice) and hot items are served hot (so use a meat thermometer). Tell anyone who asks that "rare" meat isn't being served. That will help insulate you against claims of food poisoning later.

3. Clean up the yard before guests arrive.

Do a check of the grounds and make sure that there's nothing dangerous laying around. Yard tools need to be tucked away in the shed. Hoses should be rolled up. That helps prevent trips and falls, which can lead to broken bones or worse. If you spot a hazard that you can't immediately fix -- like a couple of broken patio bricks or a gopher hole by the fence, make sure that you warn guests as they arrive about the potential danger.

You can still enjoy guests in your yard -- just keep in mind that negligence is what can lead to a premises liability lawsuit that could really dampen your enthusiasm for summer fun.

Source: FindLaw, "Premises Liability: Who Is Responsible?," accessed May 29, 2018

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