Pennsylvania & New Jersey Injury Lawyers: Landlord Liability for Injuries to Tenants & Guests
Page last reviewed and updated: February 7, 2018
Types of Injury Lawsuits Against Landlords
Under Pennsylvania and New Jersey law, landlords may be held liable when a tenant or guest of a tenant is injured on the property, in various types of accidents or even due to foreseeable criminal conduct. Landlords and other parties can be held liable and ordered to pay financial compensation for physical injuries, pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical bills, lost wages and more.
Our injury lawyers have represented tenants and guests of tenants in personal injury lawsuits against landlords in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. For a FREE consultation with firm partners, Jeff Laffey, Paul Bucci or Brian Kent, please contact us at 215.399.9255.
Negligence – Liability & Fault
The key in these types of personal injury lawsuits is proving that the landlord was negligent or otherwise engaged in wrongful conduct. Under Pennsylvania and New Jersey law, negligence is defined as doing something an ordinary, reasonable person would not do or failing to do something that an ordinary, reasonable person would do. Oftentimes, in landlord liability cases, the wrongful conduct usually involves the failure to do something.
Fall Accident Due to Negligent Maintenance
One of the most common landlord liability lawsuits is a case involving a fall accident or similar mishap, like stairs collapsing or buckling. Fall accidents often happen on sidewalks, entryways and parking lots. Whether it’s a trip and fall or a slip and fall, these types of accidents often happen due to the failure to perform sufficient maintenance.
Trip and fall accidents almost always happen because the landlord failed to perform maintenance, or failed to correct a problem that had previously been complained of. Problems in a sidewalk like tree roots, broken concrete, etc., can lead to a trip and fall accident. Uneven walkways that aren’t properly designated can also lead to a trip and fall. A stairway that has old, worn carpeting in need of replacement can lead to a fall accident.
Slip and fall accidents usually occur due to weather related conditions like snow, ice or rain. Failure to perform reasonable adequate snow/ice removal on a sidewalk or parking lot can lead to a slip and fall accident.
Generally, landlords won’t be held liable for accidents that happen inside of a tenant’s home or apartment. For instance, a tenant trips on carpeting in his apartment’s bedroom and suffers injury. In most cases, a landlord wouldn’t be held liable for this type of accident. Rather, landlords may be liable for accidents that happen in common areas, like lobbies, entryways, sidewalks on the grounds, the parking lot, etc. These are places accessed by everyone.
Criminal Conduct Due to Negligent Security
When a crime like a violent robbery or sexual assault happens on the premises of an apartment building or similar housing, a landlord may be held liable if the crime was foreseeable. This means that there must have been similar conduct in the days, weeks or months prior to the criminal incident at issue. The landlord must have been on notice that criminal conduct was a reasonable possibility. Like claims of negligence, lawsuits against landlords for criminal conduct of a third party usually involve claims that the landlord failed to do something it should have done.
Assault in a Parking Lot of Apartment Building – Landlord Failed to Provide Security
When a violent crime happens in a public area of an apartment building, the landlord can be held liable if there’s sufficient evidence that the landlord had prior knowledge of the risk of crime. Was there a recent spike in reported assaults of a similar nature? Did the landlord receive police reports or reports from tenants of criminal conduct on the premises, in the same or similar location? If so, what did the landlord do in response? Did the landlord issue warnings, increase lighting, hire security guards, etc.?
Assault Inside an Apartment Building – Landlord Failed to Correct a Dangerous Condition
What about violent crimes that happen inside of an apartment building? For example, a tenant or guest of a tenant is sexually assaulted by a criminal who gained entry to an apartment building through a basement door which had a broken door lock. Tenants had previously complained to the landlord that the door lock was broken, but the landlord failed to fix the lock. Under these circumstances, the landlord has failed to correct a known, dangerous condition and could have reasonably foreseen access by criminals.
It’s important to note that these principles don’t just apply to residential landlords. They also apply to commercial landlords, like a shopping mall. For instance, a shopper or even a mall employee who is assaulted and mugged in the parking lot of a shopping mall may be able to succeed in a lawsuit against the commercial landlord if there is sufficient evidence that the crime was foreseeable. Visit the negligent security law library for more info.
Liability of Other Parties (In Addition to the Landlord)
Whenever a commercial or residential landlord in Pennsylvania or New Jersey can be sued for an accident or injury, it’s often the case that an additional party can be held liable as well. In landlord negligence injury cases, other parties who may be held liable include:
- property management companies,
- security companies,
- maintenance/custodial companies, and
- other contractors or subcontractors.
Oftentimes, the landlord of a larger residential complex or a commercial landlord (mall, shopping plaza, etc.) may hire a property management company to handle the day to day operations. This typically includes maintenance, security, etc. When an accident occurs in a rental property or rental premises, a property management company can be held liable for the resulting injuries. Likewise, security companies or maintenance companies can also be held liable. These types of companies or contractors may be hired by the landlord directly or by a property management company.
The key in any landlord liability case is to identify any and all relevant contracts between the landlord and other parties who may have had the legal duty to provide maintenance or security for the rental premises. Such contracts will help identify the legal rights and responsibilities of each of the parties. In addition, such contracts may identify who bears liability for specific events, like accidents.
Compensation for Damages
An individual injured in an accident on the premises of a rented property in Pennsylvania or New Jersey may be able to receive financial compensation for their injuries and any resulting damages. Common claims for compensation include:
- medical bills,
- lost wages,
- out of pocket expenses, and
- pain and suffering.
In some landlord liability cases, the resulting injuries may result in a temporary or permanent disability. This in turn can lead to a significant lost wages claim. For example, a young professional in Philadelphia is injured while visiting her friend at her apartment complex. She falls down a walkway due to an uneven step and breaks her leg. She is a professional dancer and is unable to return to work for 6 months. During this time, she loses approximately $35,000 of income. If the landlord (or other parties) can be held liable, her compensation claim would include the loss of $35,000, as well as pain and suffering and any other expenses she incurred, like medical bills.
The Role of Insurance
What many people don’t know or understand is how insurance works in a personal injury case, like a lawsuit against a landlord for an accident on a rented premises. In most cases, the accident will be covered under the property owner’s property insurance or commercial insurance. The same goes if the party held liable is a property management company or a security company. The insurance company steps into the shoes of the landlord and pays on the legal claim, up to the amount purchased on the policy. In cases involving commercial landlords or large residential landlords, these policies can provide sizable payouts. Many such policies provide insurance of up to $1,000,000 or more.
When multiple parties are liable and are covered under their own insurance policy, the injured individual could recover under each policy, up to the coverage amount purchased. Here’s an example to explain how multiple insurance policies can come into play.
A Pennsylvania man is robbed and murdered in his apartment building. The crime happens in a laundry room located in the basement. The perpetrator is a homeless individual who had previously been seen entering the same building and being aggressive with other tenants. One tenant reported that the individual gained entry through a broken door in the basement. Prior to the murder, the landlord received multiple complaints about the homeless individual. The landlord’s own security company was supposed to be conducting security walks around the perimeter. Despite instructing the security company to step up security walks, the individual is not found. Nothing further is done. Lights aren’t installed around the premises, and tenants aren’t notified of the increased risk. The landlord’s employees and the security company don’t bother to check the broken lock in the basement. A few weeks later, the tenant is robbed and murdered. Police investigation shows that the perp gained entry through a broken door in the basement, the same one that another tenant had complained about.
Since liability of the landlord and security company is pretty clear, both could be held liable for the tenant’s murder. Both the landlord and the security company have commercial liability insurance policies of $1,000,000. Therefore, the deceased man’s family could recover up to $1,000,000 from each policy.
Injury Lawyers – We Handle Accident & Injury Lawsuits Against Landlords
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For more information about injury lawsuits against landlords, visit our business liability law library. Contact our Pennsylvania and New Jersey injury lawyers to discuss a potential case. FREE CONSULTATIONS
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