Premises liability law concerns the duty of property owners to keep their property safe from hazardous conditions or to warn persons who are on their property of the existence of a dangerous condition. Landlords can be held liable for an injury to someone, including tenants, if the landlord knew or should have known of the hazard either through reasonable inspection or notice of some kind.
Most premises liability claims against landlords involve slip and fall accidents where an unwary individual slips on an object because of a slick surface or defective step or structure. Other claims arise if the victim sustains an injury from being struck by an object, bitten by a dog or assaulted on the property.
Not every slip and fall or injury that happens on someone else’s property is compensable. To have a valid claim against the landlord, you must prove that the landlord had a duty of care to you, was aware of the hazard or should have been aware, and failed to act to remedy it or to warn you within a reasonable time. For this reason, many of these cases demand the skills and knowledge of premises liability lawyer Paul Tetzel who has successfully handled such claims.
Duties of a Landlord
If a visitor to your apartment is injured while in your rental unit, are you or the landlord liable or both? What if you were injured? The only way a landlord can be held responsible for accidents in a rental unit is if it was responsible for a defective step, lack of a guardrail, failure to repair something or failed to warn of a dangerous condition. For example, if you notified the landlord of a defective stair or step a few weeks ago that led to an injury, then liability is likely to be imposed.
A landlord has a duty to disclose hidden dangers as well if it is foreseeable that a failure to warn or to not repair it would likely cause serious injury. Otherwise, what happens inside a rental unit is generally the responsibility of the tenant unless faulty workmanship by the landlord, such as a poorly repaired light fixture that collapses, was the cause of an accident.
In Massachusetts, landlords and property owners have a duty to remove ice and snow from driveways and common entrances and walkways. Under the state Sanitary Code, a landlord cannot delegate its responsibility to remove the snow and ice to the tenant unless the entrance or exit area is exclusive to that one unit. If two separate tenants share a mutual entrance, the landlord cannot provide a lease provision requiring those tenants to keep the area free of ice and snow. After a snowfall, the landlord should immediately take steps to clear the area or risk liability. In a number of Massachusetts cities and towns, ordinances require property owners to also clear municipal sidewalks that front their properties of face civil fines.
In commercial establishments like bars or restaurants or retail stores, the landlord has a strict duty to periodically inspect the premises for hazards and to immediately repair or warn customers, or invitees, of any dangers.
Examples of Hazardous Conditions
If any of these dangerous conditions exist for a time in a common area on rental property, the landlord could be held responsible:
- Freshly waxed floors
- Leaking ceiling
- Icy entrances or exits or parking lots
- Poorly placed mats or rugs
- Lack of handrails
- Lack of sufficient lighting
- Steps have varying heights
- Rugs with holes or are torn
- Tools or other objects left in these areas
A number of tragic accidents have occurred on terraces that have collapsed under the weight of too many people. If the terrace was poorly constructed or designed or the landlord was aware of the instability or fragility of the structure and failed to warn or to fix it, then civil and even criminal liability could be imposed.
Another example of premises liability could involve an assault or robbery. If persons using a parking lot in an apartment complex or commercial property had been previously assaulted or robbed and the landlord took no steps to make the area safer, then any subsequent criminal activity that injured someone could be actionable.
In nearly every premises liability claim, the defendant or its insurer will allege that you either caused your accident or were partially at fault. You also have a duty to look out for yourself and to use reasonable caution. For example, if you knew that a sidewalk was slippery but wore sneakers and decided to walk on it anyway though a safer path existed, then you may be held at partially at fault.
Under Massachusetts law, your own degree of causal responsibility must not be more than 49%. If you and the landlord for instance are found equally at fault, or 50%, you recover nothing. Also, your award or settlement would be reduced by your degree of fault.
Damages in a Premises Liability Claim
Premises liability is a part of tort law where an injured person who proves that a third party’s negligent conduct was the cause of his or her injuries can recover certain damages. These include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost earnings
- Emotional trauma
- Permanent disfigurement
- Pain and suffering
- Spousal loss of consortium claim
Proving liability in many premises liability cases involving landlords is difficult since there may be conflicting versions or evidence regarding whether the landlord knew of the hazard that led to the injury or should have known of it, if the hazard was one for which the landlord was responsible for remedying, and if the claimant was comparatively negligent. In some cases, other parties may also have contributed to the accident.
Before you try to handle any aspect of a premises liability claim, call landlord premises liability lawyer Paul Tetzel of Boston. As a premises liability lawyer, Mr. Tetzel will fight for your rights and get you the best possible outcome. Call his office today for a free consultation.