Safety concerns are of paramount importance on rented property. Vigilant landlords conduct regular inspections of their properties to ensure they promptly identify and eliminate dangerous conditions. It’s in their best interests to do so. Apartment building insurance claims and lawsuits are filed every day by injured tenants and guests. That’s something they want to avoid at all costs.
Unfortunately, there are those landlords whose apathy and neglect frequently result in injuries to tenants and visitors. If you were hurt in your apartment, townhome, or duplex, or in the common area surrounding the property, you may have a right to compensation for your injuries and resulting damages.
Common causes of injuries in apartments include:
Cracked pavement and potholes
Cracked pavement and potholes in parking lots and common walkways are a disaster waiting to happen. If you stumble or trip, you’re likely to fall on concrete or asphalt. The danger is higher in the evening when it’s harder to see breaks or holes in the pavement.
Most apartment complexes have buildings with multiple floors. When handrails or banisters break loose from their fittings, it’s easy to lose your balance and stumble. Outside steps made slippery from weather conditions and inside steps made unsafe by worn carpeting can also cause injury.
Faulty shower doors
Faulty shower doors, especially those with sharp edges, can bruise or cut your legs and feet. Trying to keep a broken shower door closed while showering can also make you lose balance and fall.
Snow and ice
When landlords fail to remove snow and ice, or fail to salt or otherwise add de-icing agents, there’s a much greater chance tenants will slip and fall.
Exposed nails, torn carpeting, and loose floorboards
Left unrepaired, exposed nails can cause puncture wounds. You can stub your feet on torn carpeting or loose floorboards, and fall on the floor or into furniture, resulting in severe bruising, sprained or torn ligaments, and even broken bones.
Inadequate lighting in stairwells, parking lots, and along common walkways can contribute to tenants slipping and falling on steps, cracked pavement or in potholes. Inadequate lighting also provides excellent cover for criminals who prey on unsuspecting tenants.
Improperly grounded electrical sockets or worn away wire insulation can give you quite a shock. Electric shocks can cause second- or third-degree burns and even death.
Neglected children’s’ playgrounds can have broken monkey bars, slides, seesaws and sharp edges. Unpadded basketball poles can be exceptionally dangerous when teenagers run into them while playing. Unpadded indoor playground flooring can cause a child severe injuries if the child falls.
Loose ceiling tiles
Ceiling tiles crumble from age or when water leaks from upper floors and broken pipes. Finely granulated ceiling tile can be so small as to go undetected. Adults and children alike can easily inhale this tile debris, damaging their lungs. Larger pieces of falling tile can cause head injuries, including cuts and bruising to the scalp and face.
Landlord Liability and The Law
The law requires landlords of apartments, townhomes, rented homes, and duplexes to meet a very strict legal duty to keep their property habitable and free of dangerous conditions. When a landlord fails to carry out regular inspections and make timely repairs of his property, he’s negligent.
When his negligence results in injuries, the landlord breaches (violates) his legal duty of care (obligation). As a result he becomes responsible, or liable, for damages. Damages include the injured person’s medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses for medications, crutches, etc., lost wages, and pain and suffering.
The question then becomes how to prove the landlord was negligent and therefore liable for your damages. To succeed in your apartment building insurance claim, the law says you have a legal burden of proof. To prove your landlord was negligent requires evidence. You have to show:
- Your landlord was aware, or should have been aware of the dangerous condition existing in your apartment, townhome, duplex, or in the common area of the complex.
- A prudent (careful) landlord knows, or should know, the dangerous condition could result in injuries to you, your family members, or visitors.
- The landlord failed to take reasonable steps to correct the dangerous condition or to prevent you and others from exposure to it. This is true even during the time repairs are underway.
- The landlord’s negligence in failing to inspect and correct the dangerous condition was the direct and proximate (legally acceptable) cause of your injuries.
Your landlord has an implied obligation to make regular inspections of your apartment complex common area. You don’t have a legal duty to formally notify the landlord of the dangerous condition. It’s not your responsibility to make inspections of the property and send written notices to the landlord every time you find a dangerous condition.
The law doesn’t require you to act as a property inspector, making sure the grounds are safe. The law says the negligence is attributable to the landlord if he fails to make regular inspections of his property to guard against dangerous conditions.
Example: Failing to Repair Water Leak
It’s the middle of winter. A sprinkler head in your complex broke weeks ago. Each day, water leaks all over the sidewalk, making it dangerously icy. While coming home one evening, you slipped and fell, breaking your arm.
In this case, that you never notified the landlord about the broken sprinkler head doesn’t matter. The landlord was negligent in not inspecting the sprinkler heads regularly.
Example: Neglecting to Repair a Dangerous Shower Door
The shower door in your rented townhome broke a while ago. It tends to swing open when you get in and out of the shower. It won’t stay closed because the latch is broken. On several occasions, while drying yourself, the shower door has smacked into your leg, scraping it.
The landlord knew of the broken shower door latch because you called him several times, sent him several emails, and wrote several letters asking him to make the necessary repairs. All your requests to repair the latch went unanswered. One day the shower door swung open. This time the lower portion of the shower door cut into your leg causing a gaping wound.
Although your landlord had a duty to make regular inspections of the property, it didn’t include entering your apartment on a regular basis to inspect for dangerous conditions. That’s impractical and an invasion of your privacy. For the law to find the landlord negligent, and therefore liable for your injuries, you must have expressly notified him of the danger your broken shower door posed.
In this case, the landlord was clearly aware of the shower door because you called him several times, sent him several emails, and wrote several letters to him. Your letters, emails, etc. established express notice to the landlord of the dangerous condition inside your apartment. You also gave the landlord a reasonable amount of time to make repairs.
The landlord’s negligence in failing to repair your shower door was a breach of his duty of care to you. The faulty shower door was the direct and proximate cause of your injury. Therefore the landlord is liable for your damages.
Evidence to Prove Your Claim
The stronger your evidence, the better your chances of success in your insurance claim. Proving your landlord had notice of the dangerous condition inside your apartment, townhome, or duplex requires evidence. The more notice your landlord has ahead of an injury, the stronger your negligence claim. Here’s the evidence you’ll need:
Copies of notices to the landlord
Make copies of emails, texts, and letters you sent to the landlord advising him of the dangerous condition. Keep a written diary of each time you called to ask for help, and what the landlord or his representative said in response. Make sure you write down the name of the person you spoke with and the time and date. It might also help to get your phone records listing the calls.
Photographs and videos
Photographs are vivid portrayals of dangerous conditions. A digital camera is usually better than your cell phone camera. Be sure to turn on the date and time function before starting. Photograph and video the dangerous condition from several angles and in relation to other objects in your apartment. Get close-ups and panoramic shots. Take tons of photos.
For example, if you fell on an exposed floorboard, take a ruler and place it next to the raised floorboard to show how many inches the floorboard is above the rest of the floor. If insulated wiring shocked you, photograph the area of worn insulation first and then take a wider shot to show the rest of the wire.
Eyewitness testimony, especially from non-family members, can help prove landlord negligence. Witness statements can document a dangerous condition before and after an injury occurs. If you have a smartphone, you can video their responses. Ask first of course.
For example, while at the apartment complex playground, your child fell when the monkey bars broke in half. At the time, there were several other mothers with their kids on the same playground. After photographing the broken monkey bars, ask each of the mothers, if they would, to write down what they saw. Do it nicely. Many people are wary of legal actions and don’t want to “get involved.”
Any paper will do, just get it written down. Don’t worry about notaries or sworn affidavits. They aren’t necessary. Just make sure the witnesses sign and date their statements. If any of the mothers tells you she previously reported the monkey bars to the landlord, make sure she includes that information in her statement.
Proof of damages
You need a medical link to show your injuries were a direct (legally acceptable) result of the dangerous condition. This means you must seek medical care as soon as possible after your injury. If your injury is serious enough, call 911. The paramedics will assess and document your injuries in a written injury treatment form. You can request a copy.
If the paramedics think you should go to the emergency room, don’t refuse. If your injuries don’t require emergency care, you must still seek medical care from a local clinic or your own doctor as soon as possible. The longer the delay between your injury and its treatment, the greater the chance the landlord will refute your claims. He may say that you were injured by something else after you left the property.
Example: Injured by Exposed Nail
While moving furniture in your apartment, you stepped on a nail sticking up from the floorboard. You previously notified the landlord there were several exposed nails, but he ignored your repeated requests for help removing them. The puncture wound caused you to bleed profusely.
Your husband drove you to the local all-night medical clinic. While there, the doctor gave you a tetanus shot, prescribed antibiotics, and ordered you to keep off your feet for at least a week. You asked the doctor to write down her diagnosis and prognosis for your injury.
Her written diagnosis included:
- The type of medical care administered (tetanus shot, wound sterilization and bandaging)
- The medications prescribed (antibiotics and pain medication)
Her prognosis included:
- The type of medications you must continue to take and for how long
- The type of follow-up care you need (MRIs, X-rays, etc.)
- The doctor’s order telling you to refrain from working at your job for a specified period
Hiring an Attorney
If your injuries are serious, including broken bones, head injuries, scarring, severe burns, and other injuries requiring hospitals stays, you’ll need an experienced injury attorney to pursue your insurance claim. There’s just too much at stake.
Attorneys can take depositions (recorded statements), subpoena landlord’s records, and more. If your injuries are serious or permanent, an attorney will almost certainly negotiate a much higher settlement than you could on your own.
If your injuries are less serious, such as abrasions, minor contusions, sprained or torn muscles or ligaments, and other injuries not requiring extended hospital stays or surgical procedures, you can probably handle your own injury claim with the landlord or his insurance company.
See an example of an apartment injury demand letter here.
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