Tenants have the right to expect a reasonably safe living environment, whether in a house, apartment building, or condo. Unfortunately, not all landlords take this responsibility seriously; some are downright negligent. Unsafe living spaces can have dire consequences for tenants, causing injuries that turn life upside down.
If your landlord’s actions or inactions have injured you, you may be entitled to compensation for your hospital bills, lost wages, emotional distress, and other damages. However, landlords are not automatically liable when tenants get hurt on their property. Winning this type of claim will depend on the circumstances that caused your injuries. An experienced premises liability lawyer can help you win compensation by investigating your case and gathering evidence to prove the landlord’s negligence.
What Counts as Landlord Negligence?
Each state has laws governing landlord negligence. In Pennsylvania, for instance, landlords must ensure their rental properties meet “an implied standard of habitability.” That means they must meet the state’s building, health, and safety codes and take reasonable steps to prevent their tenants from getting hurt.
Landlords that fail to meet these standards can be held legally responsible for any injuries that result from their negligence. When a tenant gets injured, proving liability will depend on showing that the landlord negligently created a hazardous situation. To prove the landlord’s liability, a tenant must establish four elements.
The Landlord Had a “Duty of Care”
To win a compensation claim, tenants must show that the landlord was legally responsible for preventing their injury. Landlords are not liable for freak accidents that no one could have predicted. However, they must be proactive about mitigating risks in situations that a reasonable person considers hazardous.
This responsibility is known as the landlord's duty of care, and it includes:
- Maintaining all common areas: Landlords are responsible for the conditions of the lobby, stairs, hallways, elevators, outside walkways, parking areas, laundry facilities, and other shared areas of the property. For example, the landlord has to fix a loose handrail in the stairway and remove accumulated snow after a storm.
- Repairing hazards within a reasonable time frame: Landlords must resolve problems promptly once they have been notified or should have known about a dangerous issue.
- Provide adequate security: Landlords must enact basic security measures like having proper lighting for outside walkways and ensuring all doors have secure locks. They may also need security guards and a functional surveillance system for bigger apartment buildings.
- Warn tenants of dangers that are not obvious: If potential hazards have not been repaired yet, such as a malfunctioning elevator or uneven flooring in any of the shared areas, the landlord has to notify tenants.
The Landlord Should Have Foreseen and Prevented Tenant’s Injuries
Landlords are not required to take drastic measures to prevent every possible accident, but they can be held liable for not taking reasonable care to protect tenants from foreseeable danger. A skilled premises liability lawyer would demonstrate that the landlord either knew or should reasonably have known that there was a hazardous situation on the property. If the landlord has this knowledge and fails to take the appropriate actions to prevent injury, they can be held liable.
The Landlord’s Negligence Directly Caused the Tenant’s Damages
Winning a premises liability claim against a landlord will center on showing that an act of negligence caused the victim’s damages. In other words, if the landlord had maintained the premises responsibly, the tenant would not have incurred expensive medical bills, lost income, physical pain, anxiety, and other damages.
Examples of When A Negligent Landlord May Be Liable
Landlords can be held legally responsible for negligently injuring tenants in many ways. Some examples of the preventable dangers that can result in the landlord’s liability are:
The injuries caused by fire can include debilitating burns, permanent scars, long-term breathing problems from smoke inhalation, and even death. All fire code violations leave tenants vulnerable to a potential tragedy and are therefore considered a serious form of landlord negligence. Fires often begin because of hazards the landlord is directly responsible for, such as faulty wiring or old appliances. Landlords can also be held liable for inaccessible fire exits or not having enough smoke detectors.
Slip and Fall Accidents
Slip and fall accidents commonly happen due to landlord negligence. Preventable property hazards can cause serious injuries, such as loose handrails, poor lighting, raised or torn carpeting, and icy patches on walkways. When tenants slip or trip and fall, they can suffer horrific injuries like pelvic fractures, torn ligaments, and spinal cord injuries. Tenants that fall and hit their heads can suffer traumatic brain injuries, leading to long-term cognitive and physical complications.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
When gas-burning appliances malfunction, they may leak carbon monoxide. This poisonous, odorless gas can cause life-threatening damage to the brain or heart. Landlords may be liable for negligent actions contributing to carbon monoxide poisoning, such as not installing gas appliances up to code or not providing regular maintenance.
Landlords have to take reasonable measures to prevent crime from harming their tenants. That means they can be liable when their negligence contributes to an unsafe situation. For example, if tenants request stronger locks because of a recent break-in, the landlord might be responsible if they ignore the request and a second incident causes serious injury. In some states, landlords owning large apartment buildings may have higher security responsibilities, such as needing a surveillance system or trained security guards.
Toxic Mold Exposure
Toxic mold grows in chronically damp conditions, often because of water damage from damaged pipes or leaky roofs. In many states, landlords must perform timely repairs to structural issues leading to mold growth. Exposure to toxic mold can cause significant illnesses or even death, especially for children, the elderly, and people with underlying respiratory issues. Tenants that suffer mold-related complications can hold their landlord liable for not meeting basic safety standards.
Damages Available for Injured Tenants
When landlords do not maintain their rental properties according to safety and health standards, the consequences can be tragic. Injured tenants often have to navigate financial hardship, physical pain, and disruption to their everyday lives. Premises liability laws offer a path to fair compensation if you have sustained an injury or illness because of a negligent landlord. Depending on the details of your case, you may be entitled to recover:
Injured tenants can file a claim for the financial costs resulting from the landlord’s negligence, including past and future medical bills, lost wages, and property damage. Severe injuries may require ambulance transportation, lengthy hospitalization, physical therapy, and assistive devices like a wheelchair. Many victims of landlord negligence will also lose income if they take time off work to recover.
Tenants that suffer a catastrophic injury face lifelong health challenges, like limited mobility or cognitive disabilities, and may have to leave the workforce altogether. Economic damages cover these losses and others.
Suffering a serious injury due to landlord negligence will also cause substantial physical and emotional damages recognized under the law. Tenants can pursue compensation for the quality-of-life costs that resulted from their ordeals, such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment.
Wrongful Death Damages
The most severe cases of landlord negligence involve a preventable death. In these tragic situations, the tenant's surviving family members may pursue compensation for wrongful death. This type of claim covers the economic costs of losing a loved one, such as medical bills incurred by the deceased, funeral and burial expenses, and loss of income the deceased contributed to the household. Families can also file for the emotional damages of losing a loved one.
In some cases of landlord negligence, the evidence shows extreme disregard for tenants' safety. When the property owner's carelessness goes way beyond the housing code violations, courts may award punitive damages. This compensation punishes the liable party and sends a message about the seriousness of their offense.
The Process of Filing a Premises Liability Claim
Victims of landlord negligence can feel intimidated by the idea of taking legal action or have questions about the process. While filing a premises liability claim is complicated, you should know that laws protect tenants from negligence. A skilled premises liability lawyer can help you demonstrate the landlord’s negligence, present the strongest case possible and protect your legal rights. Here is what you can expect from the lawyer handling your claim:
Investigate the circumstances of your injuries
Your lawyer’s team will use all available resources to establish that the owner knew, or should have known, that there was a hazard on their property.
The evidence gathered for your case might include:
- Witness statements from other tenants or staff
- Photos and videos of the danger
- Maintenance records
- Relevant correspondence between tenants and the landlord or property management company
Demonstrate the extent of your damages
Proving your damages is essential for winning compensation in a premises liability claim. Your lawyer’s job is to document how your life has been affected by the landlord’s negligence, using evidence like hospital bills, employment records, and journal entries detailing your physical and emotional suffering. They may also use medical evaluations that show the ongoing consequences of your injuries, such as future medical costs, reduced earning capacity, and lower quality of life.
Negotiate a Fair Settlement
Once an injured tenant begins legal proceedings, the landlord’s insurance company will likely reach out and try to make a deal that avoids a trial. When their client is a negligent landlord, insurers prefer to avoid a trial out of concern that a sympathetic jury may award the victim a large judgment.
Most premises liability claims resolve when the injured tenant settles with the insurance company, but this process usually takes time. Insurers always try to minimize the victim’s damages and pay as little as possible. It is up to your lawyer to present a solid case, engage in counter-offers, and negotiate for a fair settlement.
So much is at stake after a tenant suffers severe injuries from a careless landlord. Victims and their families face numerous financial, physical, and emotional challenges that can be hard to manage without fair compensation. Contact an experienced premises liability lawyer sooner rather than later to learn about your options after an accident and pursue the compensation you deserve.