Who Is Liable if I Have Been Injured at My Apartment?
October 29, 2022
Apartment accidents can happen for a wide variety of reasons, and in many cases, are the result of landlords failing to fulfill their obligation to keep the premises safe for all tenants, guests, and visitors. Under Pennsylvania law, private individuals and businesses that are landlords can be held liable for accidents and injuries at rented properties, including apartment complexes, commercial buildings, duplexes, and vacation rentals.
Pennsylvania premises liability law takes several factors into consideration when it comes to liability. Many tenants are unaware that landlords are not automatically responsible when an accident occurred on their premises. For courts to impose liability, some form negligence on the part of the landlord must be proven, and it must be reasonable to hold them responsible. It also has to be shown that the landlord either took some action or inaction that caused the accident, or they could have foreseen that the accident would happen.
There are three basic circumstances when a landlord is liable for a tenant or other party’s injuries incurred at a rental property. These situations involve reasonably foreseeable criminal activity, slip and falls, and other negligence issues.
Third-Party Criminal Activity
In the context of third-party criminal activity, landlords can be liable for a range of incidents committed by others, including physical and sexual assaults, as well and assaults with deadly weapons. For instance, if a landlord neglects to install lighting or provide security after a string of assaults at an apartment complex, that landlord can be liable for an injury caused by another such assault by a third party. A landlord can also be liable for criminal activity at an apartment building if the activity was enabled by the landlord’s negligence. For example, a landlord who neglects to provide adequate locks on windows and doors can be held liable if a criminal gains access into the apartment building because of the inadequate locks.
Importantly, landlords can be held liable for failing to warn tenants and visitors of any known criminal activity on or near the property. A common example is when an apartment complex is subject to wave of violent robberies and the landlord knows or should know about the problem. In cases like this, the landlord can be held liable for injuries suffered as a result of subsequent criminal activity if there was a failure to warn.
Landlord Liability for Trip and Falls
Slip and fall accidents are extremely common and occur on all kinds of premises in Pennsylvania. These types of accidents can happen for a variety of reasons, from wet floors in lobbies to icy conditions on common walkways. Trip and fall accidents can cause serious harm, including broken bones, soft tissue or ligament damage, head trauma, and spinal cord injuries.
The general rule is that landlords have a responsibility to reasonably maintain common areas of apartment buildings and are held liable for preventable slip and fall accidents. This includes warning signage for hazardous areas.
Liability for Other Negligence
Under Pennsylvania law, landlords can be held liable for many types of negligent acts or omissions that result in an injury on the premises. Most commonly, landlords are found liable for negligent maintenance in the care and control of the property.
The following are types of negligence that can lead to serious and fatal injuries:
- Failure to install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Neglecting to take care of asbestos.
- Unsafe drinking water.
- Hazardous flooring, stairwells, and balconies.
- Unsafe playground equipment.
- Untimely handling of weather-related hazards.
- Dangerous parking lot and sidewalk conditions.
What Is Possession Vs. Non-Possession?
Pennsylvania courts are typically favorable to landlords who are not considered in possession of the rental property. This means that if a landlord does not have control over at least part of the premises, they usually are not held liable. There are, however, limited circumstances when a landlord who is considered to be out of possession can be found responsible.
The two most common instances are:
- Injury was result of defect that the landlord knew about when the property was transferred to tenant.
- Landlord repaired something in an improper or negligent way which resulted in the injury.
The concept of non-liability for non-possession landlords often applies to rentals that are private residences and not in cases involving apartment complexes or landlords who rent out parts of their own homes. The latter types of landlords retain possession of parts of the property under most circumstances.
An experienced premises liability lawyer can help prove the landlord either knew or should have known about the unsafe apartment condition, failed to take action to fix it, and that the tenant was injured and suffered significant damages as a result.
What Are Common or Shared Areas?
Pennsylvania law dictates that landlords have a duty to provide a reasonably safe environment for their tenants, tenants’ guests, and anyone who comes onto the property for other purposes, such as utility or postal workers. However, this duty only applies to common or shared areas and not to every part of a rental property.
The following are considered common or shared areas:
- Laundry rooms.
- Recreational rooms.
- Parking lots.
- Other public access areas.
The landlord of a large apartment complex can be held liable for an accident that occurred in the entryway of an apartment building, and a homeowner who rents out a room can be held responsible when the tenants slips and falls on ice on the walkway leading to the house.
What Is Notice of Defective Condition?
Notice is the foundation of liability in a personal injury lawsuit against a landlord in Pennsylvania. In order to hold a landlord liable, the injured party and their lawyer need to provide evidence that the landlord had prior notice of the defective or dangerous condition.
Common dangerous conditions that can lead to an apartment accident include:
- Uneven pavement.
- Torn carpeting.
- Broken stairs and railways.
- Accumulation ice or snow.
- Building or construction defects.
Landlords can even create the hazardous conditions themselves. An example would be if a landlord negligently “repairs” broken stairs and a tenant or guest injures themselves after they break again. If a tenant complained to the landlord about the broken stairs, and unreasonable time goes by without the landlord taking care of it, the landlord can be held liable because they had actual notice of the defective condition.
Can Other Parties Be Liable in Apartment Accidents?
Other parties are often sued in premises liability cases involving apartment accidents. Property and business owners, as well as property management or maintenance companies, can be held liable in addition to landlords. Apartment complexes are often owned by large corporations that are liable for accidents when they neglect to safely maintain their properties. If a corporation employs a third party to manage a property, the management company can also face a lawsuit for failing to properly maintain the property.
Large apartment complexes usually have complex contracts among multiple parties. One or all of the parties can be found liable for an apartment accident and injury that occurred on the premises. These kinds of complex cases require the assistance of a skilled lawyer who will be sure to properly file claims against all negligent parties.
We Handle Complex Premises Liability Cases
Galfand Berger LLP has extensive experience handling a range of premises liability matters:
- Confidential settlement for fatal fire in apartment building. Our client’s family member lived in a multi-unit apartment building. A fire ravaged her building, leading to her fatal injuries. Our investigation confirmed that the electrical fire originated in an unoccupied apartment undergoing renovation, and only two smoke detectors were spanning three floors with 10 apartment units. We successfully settled the case for a confidential amount on behalf on the decedent’s loved ones.
- $300,000 settlement for vacation trip and fall. We also represented a client who suffered severe and permanent injuries to her right leg when she tripped and fell down a flight of stairs at a Poconos rental. A section of raised wall-to-wall carpeting caused her to trip toward the wall of the staircase that lacked a handrail, leading to our client suffering leg fractures that required multiple surgeries. After a thorough investigation determined that the owner of the hotel property was negligent, we recovered $300,000 on behalf of our client to pay for her medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Philadelphia Premises Liability Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Help People Injured in Apartment Accidents
If you have been injured in an apartment accident, it is important to consult with one of our Philadelphia premises liability lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 800-222- USWA (8792) or fill out our online form. Located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we serve clients across New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg.