Evaluating a Landlord’s Liability to Injured Parties
THE LANDLORD’S LIABILITY FOR INJURIES TO TENANTS (AND OTHERS) UNDER NEGLIGENCE LAW
It’s difficult to evaluate, in advance, a landlord’s prospective liability for injuries occurring on his or her property. This is because the landlord’s liability for accidental injuries depends heavily on whether or not the landlord had a duty to the injured party and/or to prevent or repair the condition that caused the injury or harm.
Lawsuits based on property-related injuries are often brought under negligence law, which is a branch of tort law dedicated to evaluating harms which occur when people do not comply with legally-recognized duties to one another and to the public at large. Under negligence law, liability occurs when a person fails to comply with a legally-recognized duty and a person or property is injured (or suffers damages) as a result of the breach of that duty. The actual analysis is more complicated, but that’s the essence of negligence law.
The general rule applicable to landlords requires maintenance of property (rental and otherwise) in reasonable condition, using “ordinary care.” Since that term is fairly general, courts and legislatures have established various rules and tests for determining whether a duty exists, and when that duty is violated to a degree that the landlord should have liability to the injured party.
COURTS EVALUATE THE LANDLORD’S DUTY USING NUMEROUS FACTORS
When evaluating whether a landlord owed a duty to an injured party, courts will consider the following factors:
1. Existence of a statutorily-established duty.
2. Whether the harm or injury suffered was foreseeable–meaning, whether a reasonable person could have foreseen that this kind of damage was likely to occur (and, if so, how likely).
3. Moral blameworthiness of the landlord’s conduct. (Courts are more likely to hold a landlord liable, or find that a duty existed, when the landlord acted in a reprehensible or reckless way–though this factor alone is not usually enough to establish liability.)
4. The link or connection between the landlord’s actions (or failure to act) and the injury. (The closer the link or relationship, the more likely a court will be to find a duty.)
5. The existence of a legally-recognized “special relationship” between the landlord and the injured person(s). This factor is important because as a general rule, landlords have no duty to protect against the actions of third parties (persons other than the landlord or the injured plaintiff) unless a special relationship exists between the landlord and the injured person.
Regardless of whether you believe these factors apply to you…consult an attorney immediately if you’re injured on someone else’s property. Failure to consult a lawyer promptly may damage your legal rights (or cause you to lose them altogether).
DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for informational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice to any person or entity, and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any person or entity. Landlord-tenant law, including premises liability, is a complex legal topic, and no single article can provide complete or comprehensive coverage or information about this or any other legal topic or issue. Your personal liability may differ, based on your individual facts and circumstances. If you believe you have a legal claim or issue, or wish to know more about your individual rights, consult an experienced attorney without delay.