This week’s question was first posted in December 2015. It comes from Kimmie L., who asks:
Q: Wet weather recently has caused the steps and stairs at my apartment entrance to be slippery. I fell and ended up at the emergency room. Is my landlord responsible?
A: Hi, Kimmie. I hope you are healing quickly. Injuries and hospital trips are often traumatic events. Unfortunately, you are not the only one dealing with those issues, and you’ve asked a very important question.
The Bay Area has been blessed with some much-needed rain. However, with the rain, there comes potential slipping hazards from the accumulation of water on improperly constructed or maintained surfaces. Some property owners, including apartment owners, do not take the sometimes costly but necessary steps to maintain the property safely, allowing rainwater to accumulate on stairs and entrance ways. When a property becomes unsafe because of the poor design, construction or maintenance, and an injury occurs, it is referred to as a Premise Liability case.
To answer your question, a property owner can be held responsible for premises liability cases if the following conditions are met:
• The responsible party must have owned, occupied and/or controlled the property upon which the injured person was harmed.
• When a landlord that owns an apartment building where a person falls, this element is likely met.
• The owner was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property.
• This is a complicated element that would require analysis of whether the condition was known, should have been known, how long it was apparent and how costly it would be to fix it.
• The owner’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the harm.
Accidents are often the result of multiple causes, and sometimes people aren’t as vigilant as they could be in keeping an eye on their footing or wearing appropriate footwear. Sometimes there are also other unrelated factors at play. This element anticipates this fact and does not require that the landlord’s negligence be the only cause, but only that it be a “substantial factor” in causing the accident.
Importantly, landowners must use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions and to repair, replace or give adequate warning of anything that could be reasonably expected to harm others. They can even be held negligent if they fail to use reasonable care to discover unsafe conditions on the property and to repair, replace or give adequate warnings of anything that could reasonably be expected to harm others.
When it comes to slippery surfaces from rain, the potential dangers can take many forms, such as: clogged gutters or drains that send water onto walkways rather than the intended drainpipe, unmaintained wooden porches where moss has been allowed to grow and cause a slipping hazard or iced walkways because sprinklers were left on in freezing temperatures. The potential for slipping hazards in wet and cold weather is great and requires vigilance.
If a tenant recognizes a danger, it is best to notify the landowner, so that the danger can be repaired without anyone being harmed. If the landlord is made aware, and refuses to fix the condition which later causes injury, there will be little doubt that the property owner “knew of the condition.”
Ultimately, we should all take steps to make sure our residences are safe. Landlords have specific duties to do so. If they fail to undertake those duties and someone is injured as a result, they may be held liable for those injuries.
Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.