Santa Claus has a difficult job. In addition to needing to violate the laws of physics, there’s always the risk of injury. This could happen in many ways, including
- Falling off an icy/unsalted roof,
- Getting stuck in a too-narrow chimney,
- Being burned by a lit fireplace upon descending down a chimney,
- Tripping and falling over scattered presents,
- Slipping and falling on spilled egg nog,
… and so on.
Let’s say Santa was injured whilst delivering presents to a private home located in the State of New York. Could he successfully sue the homeowner for creating and/or permitting the existence of a dangerous condition on the premises? What if he is considered a “trespasser”?
In Philip v. Deutsche Bank Nat. Trust Co., 636 F. App’x 5, 7 (2d Cir. 2015), the court explained:
Under New York law, the elements of a negligence claim are: (i) a duty owed to the plaintiff by the defendant; (ii) breach of that duty; and (iii) injury substantially caused by that breach. Although New York does not approach the duty-of-care inquiry by determining the status of an entrant (i.e., whether the entrant is an invitee, licensee, or trespasser), the court may consider who the plaintiff is, what his purpose was on the land, and what would constitute “reasonable care under the circumstances.” Basso v. Miller, 40 N.Y.2d 233, 241, 386 N.Y.S.2d 564, 352 N.E.2d 868 (1976). Indeed, whether it is likely that a plaintiff would be on the property is the primary independent factor in determining foreseeability[,] and the duty of the owner or occupier will vary with the likelihood of plaintiff’s presence at the particular time and place of the injury.
So even assuming Santa is a “trespasser”, his status as such would not be dispositive. And a good argument could probably be made that a homeowner might be liable if they failed to take appropriate precautions (such as salting the roof, ensuring the fireplace isn’t on, making sure there is a gift-free, unobstructed path to the Christmas tree, etc.) – if it could be shown that Santa’s presence was expected/foreseeable. On that point, the cookies, milk, and letter left for him would be extremely persuasive evidence.
Of course, if he were to sue, Santa might have a difficult time explaining on cross-examination why, if he “sees you when you’re sleeping”, “knows when you’re awake”, and “knows if you’ve been bad or good”, he wouldn’t also be aware of the dangerous or defective conditions on the subject property – thus potentially giving rise to the affirmative defenses of assumption of risk and/or comparative negligence.
I think it’s fair to say that if Santa is injured on your property, you’re likely to end up on his “naughty” list.