Keep the Yuletide Glowing Only in Your Heart

December 14, 2022 | Christina M. Bezas | Commercial Litigation

The holiday season is one of the most magical times of year in New York. The crisp winter air is filled with excitement as residents transform their homes with festive decorations, bright lights and Christmas trees. Although Christmas trees and holiday decorations bring great joy and holiday cheer, it is important for Lloyd Harbor residents to understand that live Christmas trees can pose a devastating and deadly fire hazard.

According to the National Fire Prevention Agency, between 2015 and 2019, fire departments in the United States responded annually to an average of 160 home fires that started with a Christmas tree. These Christmas tree fires caused an average of two deaths, 12 injuries and $10 million in property damage annually. In fact, almost one-third of home Christmas tree fires resulted from electrical problems, and one in every five was caused by a heat source being located too close to the tree.

Who is responsible for property damage or injuries sustained by a person in connection with a home Christmas tree fire? Can a homeowner be vulnerable to litigation if a person is injured or property is damaged in connection with such a fire? The answer is yes. Depending on the circumstances, homeowners may be responsible for property damage or injuries related to a home Christmas tree fire.

Homeowners should be vigilant and practice Christmas tree safety. The National Fire Prevention Agency provides the following recommendations — among others — to safely enjoy Christmas trees: (i) place the Christmas tree at least three feet away from any heat source, including a fireplace, radiators, heat vents, candles or lights; (ii) water the tree daily; (iii) use any decorative lights in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions; and (iv) safely store Christmas tree lights in a dry location for the following year and discard any light sets that contain loose connections, broken sockets or cracked wires.

It is also important to promptly dispose of Christmas trees after removing them from the home and to not store a dead Christmas tree in a garage or in close proximity to the house because the tree is still a fire hazard.

It is always a good idea for a homeowner to consider purchasing umbrella liability coverage, which could provide you with additional protection beyond the existing limits and coverage provided by your homeowners’ liability insurance. Homeowners should consider investigating whether such insurance would cover a loss caused by a home Christmas tree fire.

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