Injured at an AirBnB? Liability implications for AirBnB and its millions of hosts

Over the last number of years, the “sharing economy” such as Uber and AirBnB has continued to grow at significant rates disrupting traditional business sectors like never seen before.

Industry and government all around the world are feeling the shockwaves of this disruption. Courts and regulators are now left applying old school legal principles to Twenty First Century challenges.

Although a lot of discussion has been had over the years about the legal implications of other sharing economy powerhouses such as Uber, this article will focus specifically on the legalities that apply to AirBnB transactions from a personal injury standpoint.

It is hard to ignore the staggering facts that AirBnB has infiltrated the global market expanding into 191 countries comprising of over 80,000 cities and 150 million users. As of March 2019, there were over 500 million confirmed guest arrivals through the service, which has earned hosts a combined $65 billion on top of its over $35 billion valuation. 1

It is unclear how many of these 500 million confirmed guest arrivals have resulted in significant personal injury or property damage. However, chances are quite high that at this rate, it is only a matter of time before AirBnB personal injury litigation makes its way through our court system.

According to AirBnB Canada’s website “[a]ll Airbnb hosts have the protection of liability insurance of up to $1 million USD to protect against third party claims for personal injury or property damage.”

The website also notes that the host protection insurance program provides coverage through a policy issued by certain underwriters at Lloyd’s of London and Zurich Insurance.

The website further states that, “[i]n the rare event that something doesn’t go as planned and someone files a lawsuit or claim against a host for bodily injury or property damage, hosts have access to Host Protection Insurance. 2

The website also states that the program covers “certain property damage in common areas of a property outside of the listing itself (for example: a building lobby). Landlords and homeowner associations are also covered in certain cases when claims are filed against them due to a guest suffering an injury during a stay or if a guest damages building property.”

It is also worth noting that AirBnB’s website notes that coverage under its host protection insurance “is primary”, which means that it isn’t necessary for hosts to make claims against their own Homeowner’s or Rental Insurance before getting coverage for a claim under the host protection insurance through the service.

This coverage appears to be quite comprehensive on its face but it is also important to be aware that the website mentions certain “conditions, limitations, and exclusions may apply.” Therefore, as a potential AirBnB host, it is wise to read the “comprehensive program summary”, which spells out the applicable exclusions to better understand your coverage protection and risks. 3

So how might this all play out after an injury? Let’s take an example of a guest badly injured at an AirBnB property after a fall due to the negligence of a host for failing to properly maintain the stairs and railings. In such a scenario, claims could be advanced against the property owner and AirBnB itself. (There may also be other potential defendants such as third party contractors who may have negligently installed the railing.)
Based on the above host insurance program, it would seem that insurance would be available to respond to claims on behalf of the AirBnB hosts through its own issued policy, which would likely also respond on behalf of AirBnB itself.

It is only a matter of time before we see how these AirBnB insurance policies respond as more of these injuries make their way through the Ontario court system. For now, it appears safe to assume that AirBnB hosts have access of up to $1 million USD in coverage through AirBnB’s issued policy (subject to exclusions), even if there is no other insurance available.

Written by

Lawson is the founding lawyer of Hennick Law.

He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from York University, and then attended University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law graduating with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 2009 before being called to the Ontario Bar in 2010.

Lawson articled with a boutique litigation firm where he gained experience in a variety of practice areas including representing Indian Residential School survivors to obtain compensation through the Independent Assessment Process for sexual and physical harms suffered.

Since his call to the bar, Lawson has devoted his legal practice exclusively to the area of personal injury and employment law. He started his firm in 2019 and regularly acts for clients on injury claims including motor vehicle accidents, slip and falls, product liability, dog bite cases and employment law disputes. He regularly appears before the Superior Court of Justice and has also appeared before the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) and License Appeal Tribunal.