Landlords have certain duties to people who rent from them, whether the landlord rents office or commercial space or rents residential space. An experienced premises liability lawyer knows landlords do not need to ensure the environment is 100 percent safe from all risks, but do need to be reasonable in protecting both renters and the public. Recently, Forbes reported one case testing the limits of landlord liability.
What is the Extent of a Landlord’s Responsibility to Ensure Safety?
The case is called Ruiz v. Victory Properties. It arises out of an incident in 2008. Two cousins living in the building in separate apartments were playing behind the building where construction materials were lying around. One of the two cousins decided to carry a cinderblock from the construction area up to his apartment and to see if he could drop it and break it.
He warned his other cousin to get out of the way, but apparently this did not occur. He dropped the cinderblock from his apartment and the cinderblock fell on the head of his cousin below. She was just seven-years-old and when the cinderblock fell on her head from three stories up, she suffered a crushed skull and sustained traumatic brain injuries.
The injured girl’s family filed a claim against the landlord. Initially, a trial court dismissed the claim because the defendant “couldn’t have foreseen the particular threat” of a cinderblock being picked up, carried upstairs and dropped on someone’s head. Plaintiffs in injury cases arising from premises liability laws and other negligence laws must prove foreseeability to recover compensation. This means demonstrating the injuries they sustained were a likely result of the defendant’s failure to fulfill a legal obligation.
An appeals court reversed the trial court, and the state Supreme Court agreed with the reversal. The Supreme Court felt a case against the landlord was justified because its negligence allowed threats to proliferate on the property. There were a variety of materials lying around including chunks of concrete, trash, and rocks. There were also deteriorating concrete sidewalks and broken down retaining walls in the apartment, all of which created hazardous conditions.
While the landlord may not have specifically been able to anticipate the particular kind of harm which occurred in this case, the court held it was foreseeable the landlord should have anticipated some type of harm could result from the conditions on the property. This created a basis for liability, even though the manner in which the particular accident happened was out-of-the ordinary.
This does not mean the court found the landlord will be held accountable; just that the case can go forward and the plaintiff will have the opportunity to try to prove the landlord should be held liable for the injuries the little girl sustained to her brain.
Every premises liability and injury case is different and has its unique fact pattern, but the decision to let the case go forward under these particular circumstances is a testament to how far landlord responsibility can sometimes extend when conditions on a property are potentially unsafe.