Visitor Question

Who’s responsible for my mother’s fall?

Submitted By: S.S. (San Jose, California)

I live in San Jose, California in an upstairs apartment. My 76 year old mother and my son were walking up the stairs of the complex to visit me. There was some kind of slippery substance on each step of the stairs. My mother slipped on the substance, fell, and was seriously injured. Her injuries included a bruised right shoulder and fractured right clavicle.  Since the fall my mother has spent 3 weeks undergoing physical rehabilitation.

I took photos of the spill and the area in which my mother fell. I took those photos to the landlord and asked him to pay for the costs of my mother’s rehabilitation. The landlord refused. I told the landlord I wanted to break my lease because I didn’t believe the landlord was keeping the apartment complex safe.  

The landlord agreed to allow me to break the lease without financial penalties, but will do so only if I sign a Release of all Landlord liability. I’m not sure that is a good idea. So far, the landlord has not agreed to pay for the cost of my mother’s rehabilitation. What are my options? Thank you.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.

Answer

Dear S.S.,

Under Premises Liability law, a landlord has a legal duty to do everything within reason to assure tenants’ apartments are habitable. The landlord’s duty extends to common areas such as stairs, parking lots, lawns, and other landlord owned or controlled property. This includes the protection of guests, business people, and others legally upon the property.

When a landlord knows, or should know a dangerous condition exists on his or her property, including condominiums, apartments, rented habitations, and common areas, and the landlord fails to take action to eliminate or repair the dangerous condition, and as a result, a person legally upon the property is injured, the landlord may become liable for the person’s injuries and resulting costs.

When someone is injured on the landlord-owned or controlled property, and that person decides to take steps to seek compensation from the landlord, the tenant, or other injured 3rd party must first establish landlord’s negligence. To do so requires proof of several legal elements:

  1. Legal duty
  2. Injury
  3. Cause of injury

It is important to note the landlord’s knowledge or purported knowledge of a dangerous condition is conditional. This means to be liable, the landlord must have known about the dangerous condition, or should have known about the dangerous condition, and with that knowledge failed to act.

For example, if the liquid spill on the stairs upon which your mother fell had been recent, and no one had reported it to the landlord, the landlord might not have had knowledge of the spill, or a sufficient time to clean it up. A landlord must have a reasonable notice and time to clean up a spill, or cure a dangerous condition.

Without access to the language in the Release of Liability, it is difficult to know the extent of the Release. However, based on the facts, it appears by signing the Release you may be signing away your legal right to sue the landlord for any matters related to your tenancy. However, this will likely not include waving your mother’s rights. Your mother will still retain her legal right to pursue the landlord for compensation, including filing a lawsuit, if necessary.

For more information on tenant rights and landlord obligations go to the California Tenants Handbook.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here , or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Published: October 19, 2017

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