Landlord Liability for Slip and Fall Injuries
A look at legal responsibility for injuries on rental property.
If you are renting a house or apartment and you slip and fall on your landlord’s premises, either inside or outside, can you hold your landlord liable for your injuries? The answer depends on where and why you fell. Read on to learn more. (Get the basics on making a slip and fall claim.)
Negligence in a Slip and Fall Case
As in almost any personal injury case, there must be negligence if your slip and fall claim is going to be successful. If there is no negligence, there is no liability.
Specifically, in order to win a slip and fall case, you must be able to prove that the property owner (i.e., your landlord) was negligent. Simply because you slipped and fell on your landlord’s property does not mean that the landlord was negligent. The landlord had to have caused (or failed to prevent) the slippery condition in some manner. Further, simply because your landlord’s premises might have been in an unsafe condition does not automatically mean that the landlord was negligent. You have to show that your landlord knew or should reasonably have known that the premises were in an unsafe condition.
Let’s look at a couple of examples of slip and falls in rental properties. (More: Proving Fault in a Slip and Fall Claim.)
Slip and Fall Inside Your Rental Apartment or House
Let’s say that there is a leak in the ceiling of your rental apartment, and it is dripping on the floor, and you end up slipping and falling. The key in this case is whether the landlord knew or should have known of the leak. Let’s look at both scenarios.
If, hypothetically, the leak just started and you did not notify the landlord, it is very unlikely that you would be able to hold the landlord responsible for your injuries. In that case, the landlord knew nothing about the leak and had no opportunity to act reasonably and fix it.
Just about the only way that you could hold a landlord responsible for a leak that you didn’t tell him/her about is if the leak was due to the plumbing being in such bad shape that any reasonable landlord should have known that the pipes would be leaking. But, in reality, if a rental place was in that stage of neglect, a jury might very well rule against the tenant on the ground that they should have known what they were getting into when renting such an apartment or house.
If, on the other hand, you had informed your landlord about the leak, and he/she failed to fix it, and then you slipped and fell, your landlord is probably going to be liable for your injuries. However, you must remember that slip and fall cases are not easy to win. Juries tend to think that people should just watch where they are going. A jury could very well think that, if you knew there was a leak, you should have been more careful.
Common Areas or Exterior of Rental Property
Let’s say that you slipped on ice or snow on the sidewalk going from the front door to the street. That is certainly your landlord’s property, but was it the landlord’s responsibility to shovel the snow? In this situation, the landlord’s liability will depend on your lease with the landlord. If the lease says that you must shovel the snow, since you're renting the house and the landlord lives out of state, then the landlord will not be responsible. But if the lease says that the landlord must shovel the snow, then the landlord will be responsible whether or not you tell him about the snow. (Learn more about Sidewalk Slip and Falls.)
Another example might be slipping on the exterior stairs of your house or apartment. If you slipped on a foreign substance on the stairs, you’re probably not going to win that case. The landlord isn’t there and generally has no obligation to clean up foreign substances in the common areas that he/she can’t possibly know are there. But if the stairs are defective in some way (i.e., they are broken or violate the building code), that would be a relatively strong case against the landlord. (More information on Stair Accidents.)
Proving Liability Against Your Landlord
As in any slip and fall case, you should take pictures of the accident scene, your clothes, and any bruises that you might have received as soon as you can. If, hypothetically, you slipped on ice or snow, the condition of the ice and snow can change within minutes. It can be difficult to impossible to win a slip and fall case without pictures showing the condition as it was at the moment of your injury. A picture is truly worth a thousand words in a slip (or trip) and fall case, so document what happened as soon as possible by making a visual record.