Your Duty of Care to Santa Claus as an Invitee

People around the world leave milk and cookies out for Santa Claus, in exchange for gifts based upon their annual behavior. Children have extended written invitations through the US Mail for Santa Claus to visit them on Christmas Eve. Few of these homeowners likely consider whether Old Saint Nick is an invitee, a guest, and what is their duty of care to Father Christmas. Has anyone consulted with an attorney on their liability for injuries to Santa Claus?

For the entire population of California, be aware of the following: Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person, except so far as the latter has, willfully or by want of ordinary care, brought the injury upon himself or herself. Cal. Civ. Code § 1714.

The very act of leaving out treats such milk and cookies for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer, are an open invitation for Santa Claus to enter your home. Moreover, providing milk and cookies in exchange for Christmas gifts contingent on good conduct, makes Santa Claus a “business visitor.” This legal status is for those “invited or permitted to enter or remain on land in the possession of another for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings between them.” O’Keefe v. S. End Rowing Club, 64 Cal. 2d 729, 735, (1966). This means Santa Claus is an “invitee” under the law in many states, because the purpose of Santa’s visit “involves some matter of mutual business interest or advantage,” specially leaving presents in exchange for milk and cookies. Id.

Everyone leaving out hot coco, milk, cookies, and carrots owe Santa Claus a duty to Santa Claus to exercise reasonable care in maintaining their premises in a safe condition so as not to injure Santa Claus or his reindeer. Ashley v. Jones, 126 Cal. App. 2d 328, 332 (1954), citing Butcher v. Queen City Iron & Metal Co., 99 Cal.App.2d 25. This means tripping hazards should be removed, pets secured so they will not attack Santa Claus, and that milk has not passed its expiration date, plus other simple safety standards that can be identified in a home inspection. Moreover, there should be adequate lighting on the house with Christmas lights per FAA regulations, to ensure a safe landing for Santa.

Landlords of apartment complexes should also take special notice. Landlords should take reasonable care in making safe all common areas of apartments. Lessor’s have an obligation for the safety of “all approaches and entrances, yards, and any other parts of the premises maintained for the benefit of the tenants within the purposes of the lease.” Sockett v. Gottlieb, 187 Cal. App. 2d 760, 763 (1960). Case law has held that, “A violation of that duty, in the absence of contributory negligence, subjects the landlord to liability to a tenant’s guest or invitee injured while lawfully on the premises within the scope of his invitation, and as a proximate result of such violation.” Id. For a landlord to be found liable, there must be evidence of knowledge of an unsafe or defective condition, or the failure to exercise ordinary care in correcting it, or such knowledge of a defect would have been learned if the landlord exercised ordinary care. Id.

Santa Claus will soon be entering homes to leave gifts on his annual business venture spreading Christmas Cheer. Homeowners, renters, landlords, and property management professionals, should be aware that they could be responsible for injuries to Santa Claus if they fail to use ordinary care to remove hazards for their living rooms and roofs. Remember, no one should have to call their lawyer on Christmas morning for injuries sustained by Santa Claus.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.