Can we be sued for a small scratch?
One of our tenants told us that a board on her porch was bad. She claims she was walking across the porch when it broke. These boards are about 1 1/2 inches thick. There is no way she was walking across the board when it broke, as these boards are more narrow than a human foot.
She was already on the roster to have the board replaced. We were set to start the next day on her porch. We had to finish the one we were working on first as there was a serious problem, and when we checked her porch it did not seem that there was any immediate danger.
She was actually putting her weight on this board and leaning against the porch banister when it broke. She was not hurt, she only ended up with a small scratch, but now she wants to sue. She also has a history of severe marijuana use. It's possible that the drugs contributed.
She had knowledge that there was a problem with the porch but did not exercise due care and placed her weight on this board, knowing it was bad. Are we really at fault here? Will we win in a lawsuit? Is there anything else we can do? Thank you.
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ANSWER for "Can we be sued for a small scratch?":
Candace (Ladson, SC):
When persons (other than a trespassers) enter or remain on your property they have a reasonable expectation of not being injured. This means as a landlord and/or owner of property you are responsible for maintaining an environment which is safe. This is known as premises liability. Learn more about liability in slip and fall claims here.
To be compensated for her injuries and resulting costs, your tenant must be able to prove three legal elements:
- A duty of care was owed by the you as the landlord
- You breached that duty by a negligent act or omission
- The tenant sustained damages (in this case a minor injury) resulting from the breach
"Duty of care owed" is presumed in this case as you are the landlord, and the person threatening to sue you was your tenant, and as such she was legally upon the premises.
"Landlord breach of the duty" in this case is not presumed. As a landlord you appeared to have taken reasonable care to schedule the repairs. You were already repairing other porch boards. You can't be in two places at once.
"Damage resulting from the breach" appears to be minor. Even if a breach could be proven (and that is unlikely) the damage to the tenant is only a minor scratch.
The best course of action is to repair the porch boards as soon as possible. If the tenant pursues you legally, you can consult with a local personal injury attorney, or even better, allow your liability insurance to handle it.
The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.
Best of luck,
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