Under the law of premises liability, landlords and tenants may be held responsible for injuries that occur on their property. Whether the landlord or the tenant will be held responsible for a particular injury will depend on the facts of the accident and, in some cases, the contract or lease between the landlord and tenant.
Types of accidents that may give rise to liability for a landlord or tenant include those which involve injuries caused by the use of faulty building materials or by building materials that have become deteriorated over time as well as by poor construction or design. Liability may also attach to a landlord if someone is injured due to tripping and falling over clutter, debris or garbage in common areas of the property. Another common type of accident that would give rise to a claim against a landlord or tenant would be a slip and fall accident involving ice in a parking lot, walkway or stairway or from moisture on a floor.
Slips and falls may occur at commercial locations including grocery stores, office buildings and shopping malls as well as in residential locations such as apartment buildings and at private homes. Slips and falls may also occur on public land such as government buildings, parks and public streets. There are a number of issues to keep in mind if you are injured on public land. This includes caps (maximum) on the amount of money you can recover against a governmental entity as well as strict requirements for providing notice to the appropriate entity within a set period of time in order to preserve your right to file a lawsuit against the governmental entity. Claims against governmental entities such as the Federal Government (United States of America), States, Cities and Towns will be the subject of a future blog.
Property owners have an obligation to act reasonably to avoid allowing any unsafe conditions to be present on their property in order to protect their tenants and visitors to the property from injury. If a property owner or landlord fails to act reasonably in the construction or maintenance of their property and a tenant or visitor is injured as a result of that failure, the owner or landlord may be held responsible for the injuries, pain and suffering and other damages suffered by an injured party. Those other damages can include medical bills and lost wages as well as the damages suffered by the spouse and other family members of the injured party who are negatively impacted by the incident.
If you are injured on the property of another due to slipping and falling on ice, you may have the right to assert a claim against the owner of the property if they failed to act reasonably in attempting to remove or treat the ice. Similarly, if you slip and fall in a grocery store on spilled liquids or other hazards, you can often pursue a claim against the grocery store if they failed to act reasonably to clean up the spill. Limitations on these claims do exist. If you slip on ice in the middle of an ice storm, it may be difficult to prove that the landlord or owner acted unreasonably as the storm was ongoing at the time of the incident. The law allows property owners and tenants in control of a property a reasonable amount of time following a storm to make the property safe. Similarly, if you are walking behind another customer at a grocery store and the other customer spills some liquid and you fall on the liquid seconds later, the law will likely find that the grocery store did not act unreasonably as they did not have a sufficient period of time to clean up the spill on which you slipped.
The victim of a premises liability based injury has a number of obligations they must meet in order to be able to recover money for their injuries. Most importantly, the victim must prove that the injuries claimed are due to the subject incident. For example, if a person has a herniated disc in their spine and is in the middle of treatment for that injury when they slip and fall, it will be difficult to prove that their back was injured in the subject incident. You may be able to assert a claim for a worsening of a condition but pre-existing injuries to a part of your body you are claiming to be injured makes proving such claims difficult and tends to decrease the value of a particular injury. In order to establish a causal connection between an injury and an accident, you must have your doctor establish the connection in the medical records or in a report that they write on your behalf. As a result, it is imperative that you describe to your doctor how the injury and pain for which you are seeking medical treatment began at the time of your accident.
In addition, in order to be able to recover for an injury, the victim must be able to demonstrate that they were not more responsible for their injuries than the property owner or party in control of a property. In Massachusetts, if a jury determines that you are 51% at fault for an accident (or greater), you are not entitled to any recovery. If you are 50% at fault (or less), you are entitled to a recovery but your recovery will be reduced by your percentage of fault. This is known as comparative negligence.
Whether a landlord or a tenant is responsible for an accident that occurs on the leased premises will vary depending on the nature and type of the incident as well as the contract or lease between the landlord and tenant. In most cases, the tenant will be responsible for injuries that occur within the portion of the premises which they are leasing if their negligence was the cause of the accident. There are exceptions to this general rule such as where the landlord leased a property and was aware of a potentially dangerous defect of which the tenant was not made aware. The landlord will also generally bear the responsibility for injuries that occur in common areas such as outside walkways and stairs, lobbies, common bathrooms, etc.…
One significant exception to the law of premises liability is in situations where an employee is injured in the course of their employment, on the property owned or controlled by their employer. In such cases, the employee will be limited to bringing a workers compensation claim. However, if the injury occurs in a common area of property that their employer is leasing, they may be entitled to pursue both a workers compensation claim against their employer’s workers compensation insurer as well as a personal injury claim against the landlord.
Lastly, you should always take pictures of whatever defect or condition caused your injury. Very often that condition will be gone within hours or days following an accident (especially if it was ice). As a result, it is extremely important that you preserve the evidence of negligence. Similarly, if there were any witnesses to your accident, you should be sure to obtain their names, phone numbers and addresses so that you will be able to seek their assistance at a later date.
If you have been injured in a premises liability accident, it is imperative that you contact a qualified attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights. The personal injury attorneys at the Massachusetts law firm of the Keches Law Group have the experience and resources to pursue a premises liability claim on your behalf. Please call 508-822-2000 for a free, no obligation, consultation. If you are unable to come to one of our offices throughout Massachusetts, we will be happy to meet at your home or another convenient location.