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Personal Injury Claims Against Landlords

Every year, hundreds of people across the United States are injured on the premises they rent and consider their home. The landlord-tenant relationship is a relationship that is governed by a contract, and, therefore, if one party breaches this contract, the other party can recover damages.

Need To Know:

  • In personal injury claims against landlords, the landlord must be found negligent of their “duty of care.”
  • If the landlord had a duty to make a repair (for example, a broken stair), the landlord could be sued for resulting injuries.
  • In some cases, landlords can be held liable for tenant injuries because of a third-party criminal act.

In This Article:

Common Tenant Accidents for Which Landlords May Be Liable

Among the most frequent accidents that tenants suffer are:

When is a Landlord at Fault for an Accident?

Most states imply into residential leases a covenant of habitability that cannot be waived– implied warranty of habitability. According to this warranty, the landlord must comply with housing codes and provide the tenant with a livable, safe, and clean apartment.

However, not always and not in all states, when an accident occurs at the rentals, landlords are liable for injuries sustained by tenants. If the guest of a tenant is injured, both, the landlord and tenant may be liable to the guest.

One of the cases where the landlord can be held liable is when the landlord is negligent. Many courts now take the position that landlords owe to tenants a general duty of reasonable care, and thus, can be held liable if the tenant’s injury was caused because of ordinary negligence, a negligent, not intentional act or failure to act on the part of the landlord.

However, to have a viable personal injury case against the landlord based on negligence, the tenant must prove that the landlord knew about the defect that led to the tenant’s injury and had the opportunity to repair it.

As in any personal injury case based on negligence, the injured tenant can sue the landlord for the injuries and damages caused, if all elements of negligence are met.

The tenant must prove that their landlord owed a duty of reasonable care to the injured tenant, and that:

  • The duty was breached by the landlord
  • that breach was the actual and proximate cause of the tenant’s injury
  • and that the tenant suffered damages because of that breach

How to Prove a Landlord is Liable for Tenant Injuries

To prove the proximate cause (legal cause) of the tenant’s injuries, the tenant must assess whether the consequences of the landlord’s acts were foreseeable or unusual.

In any personal injury case between a tenant and a landlord based on negligence, the courts consider and analyze the following facts and circumstances:

  • Did the landlord know about the dangerous condition on the premises and/or created it?

Generally, a landlord can only be held liable for the tenant’s injuries if the landlord either created a dangerous condition by their actions, or they had an actual and/or constructive notice of that dangerous condition prior to the accident. Here is the difference:

Actual notice. Actual notice means that a landlord actually knew of and was informed of the dangerous, unmaintained, hazardous, negligent, improper and/or unsafe condition and or conditions on their premises.

Constructive notice. Constructive notice means that the dangerous, unmaintained, hazardous, negligent, improper and/or unsafe condition and or conditions on the landlord’s premises existed for such a length of time that the landlord by adequate, proper sufficient and/or timely inspection knew or should have known thereof.

  • Did the landlord know that the dangerous condition on their premises created a substantial risk of injury/damage to those on the premises even before it caused them any harm?

  • Did the landlord have a contractual duty to make any repairs? If the landlord has a duty to make repairs, he is liable for injuries resulting from negligent repairs or failure to repair. If the landlord does not have a duty to make repairs, but nevertheless tries to make a repair, the landlord is liable if the tenant’s injury is caused by negligently done repairs or if it gave a deceptive appearance of safety.
  • Did the landlord have a statutory duty to make repairs, for example, according to the housing code provisions? Did the landlord violate any applicable statute imposing a specific duty on the landlord? In this case, if that duty was breached by the landlord, the landlord will be held liable if the tenant proves that the landlord violated the applicable statute and also proves causation and damages.
  • Did the accident occur in a common area such as an elevator or sidewalk in front of a building? The landlord has a duty of reasonable care in maintaining common areas.
  • Was the condition that caused the tenant’s injury concealed? If the landlord was aware of a hidden dangerous condition that the tenant would not discover by reasonable inspection, the landlord is required to notify the tenant of the existing defect.
  • Did the tenant’s own conduct contribute to their injuries? Did the tenant exercise reasonable care in certain circumstances (a care that an average person would exercise in the litigant’s/plaintiff’s position)? Did the tenant assume the risk of injury?

Types of Negligence Considered When a Tenant is Injured

Contributory negligence

The courts that apply a contributory negligence system will completely bar a litigant’s right to recovery if the litigant’s own conduct in any way contributed to his/her injuries.

Comparative negligence

In the jurisdictions that apply a comparative negligence system, percentage of the litigant’s own negligence will be assessed by a trier of fact and, ultimately, will be used to reduce litigant’s damages accordingly.

There are states that have adopted partial comparative negligence and there are states that have adopted pure comparative negligence.

Partial comparative negligence

This bars litigant’s recovery if it was determined that litigant’s own negligence outweighs or, in some states, at least is as serious as defendant’s negligence. 

Pure Comparative Negligence

In the states with pure comparative negligence system, if the percentage of the litigant’s fault in the accident is less than 100%, it plays no role in the right to recover damages, however, the amount of recovered damages will be apportioned based on the percentage of the plaintiff’s fault.

The State of New York, for example, has adopted a pure comparative negligence system. For example, plaintiff had a slip and fall incident on the defendant’s premises and suffered $100,000 in damages.

It was determined that plaintiff was 60% negligent and defendant was 40% negligent. That means that plaintiff will still have a right to recover damages even though plaintiff’s negligence was more serious than defendant’s, but he will be able to recover only $40,000 out of $100,000.

How Assumption of Risk Impacts a Lawsuit Against a Landlord

Another factor that can be considered and which may deprive a party of their right to recover damages, is whether the tenant has assumed the risk of damage caused to them by the negligence of the landlord. If the litigant/plaintiff was aware of the risk of injury/damage and, despite that, ignored that risk and voluntarily proceeded, they may be completely denied recovery.

For example, if the landlord has made the tenant aware of the hidden dangerous condition and despite that the tenant accepts the premises, and thus, assumes the risk, the landlord will no longer be liable if that condition causes the tenant any injuries.  

Other Situations in Which a Landlord May Be Responsible for Injuries

There are also some other cases where the landlord may be held liable:

Res Ipsa Loquitur

In some cases it is very difficult to establish the landlord’s breach of duty. However, according to this doctrine, it becomes possible if the tenant can show:

  • The accident that caused the plaintiff’s injury would not occur unless someone in the position of the defendant was negligent;
  • The tenant was free from any fault on their part.

Third Party Criminal Acts and Landlord Liability

Some courts have held that in the cases where landlords fail to comply with the housing code provisions concerning security, landlords can be held liable for injuries sustained by tenants as a result of a third-party criminal act.

Does a Landlord Owe Any Duties to Those Who Do Not Reside on Their Premises?

Under the traditional rule many courts in the United States follow, even when a dangerous condition on the premises was a direct cause of the individual’s injury/damage, the extent of the premises liability will depend on the legal status of that individual, which is mostly determined by the purpose for which the individual entered the premises and/or their connection with the landlord/owner.

Depending on the purpose and/or connection, the injured individual’s status can be one of the following:

  • Trespassers – individuals who were not invited by the landlord/owner to enter the premises and entered the premises without the permission of the landlord/owner of the premises;
  • Licensees – individuals who entered the premises for their own purpose or business and with the permission with the landlord/owner of the premises (social guests are licensees);
  • Invitees – individuals who were invited to enter the premises by the landlord/owner of the premises for a purpose connected with the business of the landlord/owner of the premises or for a purpose for which the premises are open to the public.

Depending on the legal status of the individual, a landlord/owner owes him/her a different level of duty.

  • Trespassers – whether a landlord/owner owes any duty to a trespasser depends on whether a trespasser was an undiscovered, discovered or anticipated trespasser. While a landlord/owner owes no duty to an undiscovered trespasser, as to a discovered or an anticipated trespasser, a landlord/owner owes them a duty to warn them about a known to the landlord/owner, unsafe, hidden, artificial condition that involves a risk of a serious bodily injury or death.

A lower standard applies to minor trespassers and is known as an “attractive nuisance doctrine”. The landlord/owner can be held liable according to this doctrine, if he/she knows or should know about the dangerous condition on the premises, should know or in fact knows that the area in the vicinity of the condition is frequented by children, that the condition can cause injuries to children, and that the magnitude of the risk exceeds the cost of remedying the situation.

  • Licensees – a landlord/owner of the premises owes a duty to warn of an artificial or natural dangerous condition known to him/her, but which is unlikely to be discovered by a licensee and which creates an unreasonable risk of harm to a licensee. For licensees, a landlord/owner does not have a duty to inspect or repair the premises.
  • Invitees – a landlord/owner of the premises owes the same duties owed to licenses, but in addition to that – a duty to inspect the premises to discover a dangerous condition and make them safe.

Attorneys Experienced in Fighting for Injured Tenants

The law office of Block O’Toole and Murphy has invaluable experience representing tenants in their personal injury cases against landlords. Attorneys who have advocated for injured tenants know exactly how to collect evidence of the accident and prove landlord negligence.

If you’ve been injured at home and believe that your landlord may be responsible for your injuries, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced attorney right away. Call 212-736-5300 or fill out our Contact Form

Below are some examples of our results for personal injury claims against landlords:

  • $5,850,000 Settlement for a home health aide who was cooking Easter dinner when her kitchen ceiling collapsed causing injury to her head, neck, and back.
  • $2,250,000 Settlement for a Bronx tenant who suffered spinal injury after her ceiling collapsed on her face and head.
  • $2,250,000 Settlement for a tenant who slipped and fell down the stairs at her apartment complex.
  • $1,650,000 Settlement for the widow of a man who died in a building fire which was accelerated in its spread due to an open pipe.
  • $1,500,000 Settlement for a Bronx apartment tenant who suffered head and neck injuries when he tripped over a stair while taking out the trash.
  • $1,500,000 Settlement for a tenant who slipped on a snow-covered landing and front steps at her Bronx apartment building and suffered neck, back, and knee injuries.
  • $1,450,000 Settlement for a tenant who was showering when her apartment ceiling collapsed on her head, causing injuries that required spinal fusion surgery.

Personal Injury

Free Consultation with a Premises Liability Lawyer

To discuss your potential premises liability case with a Block O’Toole & Murphy attorney, please fill out the form below or call 212-736-5300.