Landlords need to maintain a safe space for tenants and visitors and can be found responsible in a premises liability lawsuit if they allow hazardous conditions to exist and injury results. It is the burden of a plaintiff in a premises liability case to show the landlord should be held responsible for the damages suffered. An experienced premises liability lawyer can help to prove the landlord bears legal responsibility for harm. In some cases, however, it can be a complicated question whether the landlord's action or inaction justifies requiring the landlord to compensate the plaintiff for losses.
How Far Does a Landlord's Liability Go When Someone is Hurt on Property?
Forbes reported on one recent case, Ruiz v. Victory Properties, which tests the limits of landlord liability for injuries. The tragic accident leading up to the lawsuit against Victory Properties occurred in 2008.
Two cousins were living in an apartment complex with their mothers. Both cousins lived in different apartments. The two were children, and were playing together outside behind the building where they lived. On the apartment property where they were playing, there were rocks and cinder blocks and other items lying around.
One of the two cousins picked up one of the cinder blocks. Telling his cousin to move, he carried the cinder block up to a third floor apartment and he threw it out and down to see if it would break. His cousin below did not move out of the way. Instead, the seven-year-old was in the path of the cinder block when it fell. It struck her on the head, resulting in a crushed skull and lasting traumatic brain injuries.
Seeking compensation for the tremendous damages she endured, her family filed a lawsuit against the landlord of the property. The case was initially dismissed, however, because the trial court found there was no way the defendant landlord could have foreseen the type of harm which occurred.
Foreseeability is an essential component of tort litigation when a plaintiff files a civil lawsuit for personal injury or wrongful death. A plaintiff has to show the defendant breached a legal obligation or duty; harm occurred from the breach; and the harm was a foreseeable result of the defendant's actions or the defendant's inactions. In this case, the trial court thought the landlord couldn't have possibly anticipated a child would take a cinder block up to a third floor and throw it off when someone was below.
The appeals court reversed the trial court and the state Supreme Court upheld the reversal and said the case should go to a jury. The court's reasoning was, while the particular fact pattern was not necessarily foreseeable and the facts were unusual, is was foreseeable the construction materials lying around could be harmful and lead to injury. Since injury was foreseeable, the plaintiff will have the chance to try to make the case to the jury showing the landlord is responsible for the particular losses in this case.