Storm Shelter Liability in Oklahoma

Spring in Oklahoma means severe weather, and although this storm season has been somewhat quiet, most Oklahomans remain alert to the possibility of tornadoes and damaging hail--especially in light of the devastating storms of the past few years.  Oklahoma legislators are attempting to make Oklahoma safer during severe weather by offering incentives for the installation of storm shelters.  Earlier this month, Governor Mary Fallin signed into law House Bill 2419 as another measure to attempt to provide Oklahomans with a safe place to ride out dangerous storms.  HB 2419 is a storm shelter liability law that attempts to protect property owners from an Oklahoma premises liability lawsuit if they open their homes or businesses to those seeking shelter from severe weather. Governor Fallin signed the bill after previously vetoing a similar bill.  She struck down HB 2296 shortly before this year's fatal tornado in Woodward which killed six people, including three young girls.  HB 2296 was intended to protect the owners of mobile home parks from liability in providing shelter during storms.  Representative Eric Porter drafted the bill after a woman in his district was turned away from a park office during a storm because of liability concerns.  Fallin vetoed the bill saying that although it was well-intentioned, it was poorly written.   She said HB 2296 might have allowed for some people to be rewarded for gross negligence, and it singled out mobile home park owners as a special class of citizen. Proponents of the bill went back to the drawing board and drafted HB 2419, which addressed Fallin's concerns and protected all homeowners and business owners who, in good faith, provide shelter from a storm--not just mobile home park owners.  Fallin signed the bill on May 4, 2012, and it took effect immediately. While the storm shelter liability law serves as a "Good Samaritan" law for those offering shelter in a storm, it does not prohibit lawsuits against those who exhibit "willful or wanton negligence" or "misconduct."  For example, business owners who encourage others to take shelter in a place that is structurally unsound may be held liable.  The law defines a "safe place" as "any property, dwelling, shelter, or other structure that can be reasonably considered protection from severe weather," a definition that some legislators consider to be too vague. Oklahoma City premises liability lawyers encourage all people to properly maintain their homes, businesses, and property.  When injuries occur due to inadequate maintenance, lack of repair, or failure to address safety concerns, the property owner can and should be held financially liable for the resulting injuries.  Oklahoma's tornado shelter liability law protects those acting in good faith, but it does not protect those who allow others to take shelter in a structure that is not considered a "safe place."

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