Who is responsible for accidental damage to someone's personal property?
Question Details: I have a landscape company and a resident had an under-the-car protection mat lying on the driveway in a condominium community, just outside the lawn area 18-20' off the grass. As I came around the planting bed to turn on the pavement, I noticed the mat but it was too late and got sucked up into my mower, causing part of it to shred. There was no way to see it, nor enough time to stop when it came into view. The homeowner claims that we were negligent and should have been more aware, however I have been in the business 17 years and have never come across such an item nor knew of its existence. It is a dark gray and blended with the drive and it was in the shade. I feel it is the homeowner's responsibility and it is commonly know to assure the area is clear of obstacles when we on the property. She was aware we were servicing the property, as I noticed her, roughly 20 minutes prior to the incident, but was, as mentioned, unaware of her article in the drive.
There is no hard and fast answer, since it depends on the somewhat subjective determination of whether you or the homeowner or both were unreasonably careless, since that is the standard: for you to be liable, you would have to be unreasonably careless ("negligent") and the homeowner would have to have *not* been unreasonably careless (since if she had been, her carelessly would act as an offset vs. your liability). Because the mat blended with the driveway and was in an unexpected location, you probably have the better of it: i.e. it is more likely that you would not be found to have been negligent, and also reasonably likely that the homeowner would be found to have been negligent in leaving it there. However, you are far from guaranteed to win if sued: while it's likely you'd prevail if she sued it, it is certainly possible that she would win. The advantage appears to be yours, but it's only an advantage, not a guaranty.