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Premises Liability for Waterfront Homeowners

Premises Liability for Waterfront Homeowners

Wisconsin and waterfront property go hand in hand. Our state has the second largest Great Lakes coastline in the country with nearly 20% of Wisconsin’s geographic area being comprised of waterways. We may not have an ocean nearby, but our extensive network of rivers and lakes are among The Badger State’s greatest claims to fame. Some historians even believe that the name Wisconsin derives from a Native American phrase that translates as “where the waters gather!”

Here in Madison, we’re especially aware of Wisconsin’s waterways. There’s a reason that locals call it “The City of Four Lakes” and that the government’s go-to slogan is “Lake, City, Lake.” Our downtown is situated along an isthmus, sharing coastlines with Lakes Wingra, Kegonsa, Waubesa, Monona, and Mendota.

It’s no surprise, then, that waterfront property is especially popular in Madison and throughout Wisconsin. Lakefront homes enjoy astounding scenery and easy access for recreation and they’re among the most desirable lots of land in the state. But waterfront property also invites a whole host of unique legal issues, most of them pertaining to specific duties that waterfront homeowners owe to the public.

Lakefront homes can prove very costly to owners who haven’t been responsible in maintaining safe conditions on their property. Whether you own a lakefront home or you’ve recently been injured while visiting someone else’s, it’s important to understand the issue of premises liability for waterfront homeowners here in Wisconsin.

As Madison premises liability attorneys, we understand that injuries like this almost always strike their victims by surprise. No one expects to get hurt when visiting a neighbor or a friend. But injuries do happen — often suddenly — and they can turn your whole world upside down. Even seemingly small-scale accidents can invite an incredible interruption into your life, requiring time away from work and expensive medical bills, not to mention the emotional toll that the whole ordeal can take. You shouldn’t have to bear those burdens alone.

We want to help accident victims better understand premises liability for waterfront homeowners, and we hope it will also help the owners themselves better protect the public. Keep in mind, though, that every single case is unique, so you should always talk directly with Boller & Vaughan, your Madison premises liability attorneys, before making any decisions about your situation.

A Basic Overview of Wisconsin Premises Liability Law


Before getting into the issues that make waterfront property unique, let’s review Wisconsin premises liability law as a general matter.

Premises liability refers to the property owners’ responsibility to keep the land and buildings they own in a safe condition so that others aren’t hurt there.

It’s an important area of the law because every injury happens somewhere, and the majority of personal injury lawsuits involve property owned by someone other than the victim. In those cases, the owner (or a tenant or property manager) may be financially responsible for the cost of the victim’s suffering.

Property owners should be very concerned about their potential for liability, and rightfully so. No one wants to get sued, so many owners make the necessary investments to comply with the law and protect the public from harm.

Sadly, not all property owners are willing to be so responsible. Either unwilling to invest funds in safety or simply out of neglect, landowners too often allow dangerous conditions to go undetected, unrepaired, and unresolved.

That’s unacceptable. Wisconsin premises liability law requires owners to make reasonable efforts to find out about dangerous conditions and fix them, warning the public in the meantime about the potential for injury.

Generally speaking, Wisconsin premises liability law applies to public, private, and commercial parties. Whether you’re buying groceries or visiting your next-door neighbor, you have a right to expect that you’ll be safe wherever you may be. After all, the landowners are in a better position to find out about — and take care of — their own property hazards than you are.

What You Need to Know About Premises Liability for Waterfront Homeowners

Waterfront property is tricky for a lot of reasons. Water affects land in a number of ways over time, and that’s true for the structures built on top of that land too. Accordingly, waterfront lots require greater maintenance and more strenuous inspection than some other kinds of land.

We must also consider the fact that the waterways themselves are open to the public. This can sometimes create confusion as to where an injury occurred and which parties might be held responsible. Simply asking an experienced Madison premises liability attorney about your situation can help you determine your rights.

The following are examples of common waterfront property issues:

  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Electrocution
  • Drowning
  • Diving accidents
  • Children injured as a result of inadequate fencing
  • Inadequate signage to warn the public of known risks
  • Toxic mold exposure
  • Walkway, deck, dock, or pier injury / collapse
  • Boat-related injuries
  • Defective retaining walls
  • Flooding
  • Hosts serving excessive alcohol and then allowing inebriated guests to engage in dangerous activities in or around the water
  • Compromised structural integrity of the home (rotting wood, missing shingles, mildew, weakening floorboards, etc.)
  • Failure to repair known dangers, including hazards created by inclement weather
  • Failure to address problems with dangerous animals on the property
  • Failure to obtain the necessary permits and/or licenses for certain fixtures, watercraft, or activities

It’s important to remember the difference between legal fault and your own personal sense of “fault.” Too often, victims are quick to blame themselves for an injury, even though they may be legally entitled to compensation from someone else.

Victims can also feel reluctant about suing a neighbor, family member, or friend. Remember, though, that these homeowners are often covered by an insurance policy, and their insurance companies may be responsible for paying for your injuries.

A Note for Waterfront Homeowners

If you own riverfront or lakefront property in Wisconsin and are concerned about premises liability for waterfront homeowners, don’t hesitate to contact our office. While our firm is primarily dedicated to helping innocent accident victims, we also want to help you make your property as safe as possible to prevent the risk that someone else might be injured on your land and someday file a lawsuit against you. We can answer your questions and advise you on the best steps to take. Or, if you believe you’ve been in compliance with the law and are being unfairly targeted in a lawsuit, let us know. We may be able to help.

Injured on Waterfront Property in Wisconsin? Boller & Vaughan Can Help.

Boller & Vaughan is a nationally renowned personal injury law firm in Madison, Wisconsin. We have years of experience in handling both straightforward and complex premises liability cases, and we have a reputation for earning our clients the compensation they deserve.

If you’ve been injured on someone else’s property — even if it belongs to a family member or friend — we can help. You may be entitled to significant financial compensation from an insurance company or another third party. Let the Madison premises liability attorneys at Boller & Vaughan help.

Your initial consultation is completely free of charge. And, if we agree to take on your case, we will only charge for our services if we’re able to recover compensation. Remember that a statute of limitations (time limit) may apply, so please do not delay. Call right away to ensure that you don’t accidentally waive your rights to recovery.
To get started, simply call 608-268-0268 or submit an online questionnaire.