Who is liable for injuries sustained from faulty rental furniture?

by Julie
(Antioch, CA)

Last night, I attended a friend's 50th birthday party at her home. We were one of the first guests to arrive. There were probably about 10-15 guests (mostly family) that were already there when we arrived and they appeared to be the people that helped my friend set up everything.

We were escorted out onto the backyard patio where there was a huge 3-sided canvas tent set up. Under the tent there were approximately 8-10 rectangular tables with approximately 10 chairs around each table, 4 along each long side and one chair at each end. My friend had rented the tent, tables, and chairs from a local party rental equipment company.

There was plenty of seating available so my friend and I sat at a table by ourselves. I sat in the one of the chairs at the end of the table and my friend sat in first chair directly to my right on the side of the table.

I set my purse down and we began to chat. After about 30 seconds, my chair seamed to explode beneath me. All I knew was that the back of my head hit something extremely hard and that I was laying on the ground with a broken chair beneath me. (I am 5'9" tall and for my height, I am only slightly overweight, maybe 10-15 lbs).

I didn't loose consciousness, probably because the pain was close to being unbearable. I just sat there and held the back of my head for at least 5 minutes. Several people, including my friend, were all around me asking me if I was okay. I just kept saying, "I don't know yet, I don't know." I was helped up to a sitting position and I just sat there holding the back of my head.

After several minutes, I decided that I would try to get up, so I let go of the back of my head as I needed the use of my hands and arms to get up off the ground. When I looked down at my right hand, I noticed that my thumb had blood on it. I knew right then my head was bleeding. I accepted the help of a man who had been holding on to my arm from the beginning and he assisted me to get up in a standing position.

I was pretty wobbly at the time but the host wanted him to bring me inside her house so they could get a better look at my injury. I was unsteady when walking. The nice man held on to me pretty tight and I was able to walk inside and they sat me down in a sturdy chair.

They got a flashlight out and began to gently move tresses of my hair aside to try to find the source of the blood. They found a pretty deep gash on my head and suggested that I should go to the emergency room at a nearby hospital.

When I got to the emergency room they rushed me right back into a treatment room. The doctor came and looked at the wound, which was now a very large hematoma on the back of my head, with a deep gash on top that bleeding, and said that I was going need a few staples. The nurses cleaned out the wound but they couldn't stop the bleeding.

The doctor decided to go ahead and close the wound, and he ended up having to use 6-7 staples. They also had to give me a tetanus vaccination because the gash was caused by my head hitting the edge of another table that was behind the chair where I was sitting.

My friend that hosted the party told me that she had her husband check all of the rental chairs that they got from the rental company and he found several more chairs that could have been potentially dangerous for people to sit in.

I have a couple more small abrasions on the back of my head and a few bruises on my back. I have to go back to the hospital in 7 days to have the staples removed.

I think the rental company was negligent in this accident. They provided/delivered faulty equipment to my friend and, as such, they placed several of her guests at risk of being injured. We are in California and I don't know what the laws are regarding equipment rental companies that do not inspect their equipment thoroughly before they rent their equipment out to customers.

I do not want file any claims against my friend because she was under the impression that the equipment she rented from this company was going to be safe for her guests.

If the rental company made her sign a contract that included a "hold harmless" clause, I don't see how it could be found appropriate. Their customers wouldn't know what type of things or clues to look for that would enable the customer to determine that the equipment was faulty and should not be used.

I firmly believe that the rental company is at fault in this situation. Considering the fact that I don't know if there are going to be any residual effects from the injury that I received to my head, I just want to be sure that I can hold the rental company liable for any further medical care that I may need resulting from this injury accident.

I don't drink, meaning I had not had any alcoholic beverages prior to the accident and I was not under the influence of any prescription medication or illegal drugs.

Do I have any options under California law that would allow me to hold this rental company at fault for my injuries? What do I need to do? Thank you.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Who is liable for injuries sustained from faulty rental furniture?":

Julie (Antioch, CA):

You appear to have a viable third party personal injury claim against the rental company. You also appear to have a viable personal injury claim against the homeowner, via your friend’s homeowners insurance.

Head trauma qualifies as a serious injury, and a case like yours requires legal representation. To be able to pursue a personal injury claim will require appropriate notice to the rental company.

If you intend to pursue your third party injury claim without legal representation, the rental company will likely deny liability, blaming it on you, your friend, or another 3rd party. If that occurs, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit against the company. Unless you are an attorney, that's something you aren't prepared to do on your own.

An attorney can "pierce" the denial of liability and get right to the foundation of your claim. Once an attorney notifies the rental company of its intention to pursue the claim on your behalf, it is likely the rental company will turn the matter over to its insurance company.

The insurance company will then deal with your attorney in an effort to settle the claim. If your attorney is unable to settle the claim, he or she will likely file a lawsuit on your behalf.

Doing so will enable your attorney to subpoena present and past employees of the rental company to depose them and determine if they knew about the problem with the chairs. If so, the rental company would have had previous knowledge of the faulty chairs and decided to do nothing about them. This will substantially help your case.

Additionally, your attorney will be able to file a subpoena duces tecum for the rental company’s internal memos and intra-company communications regarding the chairs. Your attorney will also be able to discover through depositions if there were previous claims or lawsuits against the rental company.

All these legal tactics will help ensure your claim will settle for a substantial amount, or be awarded a fair court verdict after trial.

Contact several personal injury attorneys in your area. Most will not charge for an initial office consultation. Bring along copies of your medical records to date. After reviewing your medical records and discussing the underlying facts of the event, the attorneys will be able to give you a good idea of the viability of your claim and the probability of success.

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,

Judge Calisi

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