When you rent an apartment, condo, single-family home, or another residence, you expect your landlord to keep the unit in good condition, including keeping it heated and cooled, preventing water leaks, and keeping the property safe.
Unfortunately, some landlords do not keep their properties safe. Many are often unreachable or just don’t care. Landlords that do not take care of their properties are at a much higher risk of being the subject of a lawsuit.
Tenants injured due to their landlord’s negligence could file a claim against the landlord to recover compensation for injuries due to the landlord’s actions or inactions. In such cases, it’s important to seek legal guidance from a premises liability attorney who can help tenants understand their legal rights and navigate the complexities of the legal system.
Responsibilities of Landlords
Each state has its laws, including those about a landlord’s responsibilities to tenants. If the landlord does not maintain the property and the tenant suffers injuries due to the landlord’s actions or inactions, the tenant may have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Applicable Building Codes
Regardless of where you live, your state will most likely have a list of items regarding the material effects on health and safety of occupants, including:
- Space, ventilation and sanitation requirements, such as bathrooms, showers, kitchen sinks, hot and cold running water, heating and cooling, broken windows, adequate electricity, and garbage storage and removal.
- Structural issues, including foundations, flooring, floor supports, walls, vertical supports, ceilings, roofs, roof supports, fireplaces, and chimneys
- Non-conforming wiring
- Non-conforming plumbing
- Non-conforming mechanical equipment, such as vents
- Weather protection, including deteriorated plaster, ineffective or deteriorated walls, foundations, floors, roofs, windows, and doors
- Broken, damaged, and deteriorating wall coverings and roof coverings
- Fire hazards, including weeds, debris, and other trash left outside or in the common areas
- Faulty construction and materials
- Materials not allowed by the building code
- Unsanitary items, including weeds, garbage, rat harborages, combustible materials, refuse, debris, dead organic matter, and more
- Poor maintenance of buildings, walkways, parking lots, and common areas
- Unhealthy conditions
- Inadequate exits
- Improper occupancy
A landlord in Arizona must make any repairs required to keep the premises compliant with Section 9-1303, plus keep any common areas safe and clean.
Common Causes of Tenant Injuries Caused by Potential Landlord Negligence
As with other types of personal injury cases, you must prove that the defendant—a landlord in this case—was negligent.
To prove negligence, you have to prove four elements, including:
- The landlord has a duty of care.
- The landlord breached the duty of care.
- You suffered injuries because of the landlord’s breach.
- You suffered financial losses because of the landlord’s breach. Financial losses could include medical expenses that you otherwise would not have had to pay, lost wages, and more.
Before you can recover compensation, you must show that landlords violated their duties of care, including the responsibility to maintain the premises. Always document interactions with landlords where you notify them of hazardous or unsanitary issues. If you must notify your landlord more than once about a situation, be sure to document each notification, as it is the failure to take action within a reasonable amount of time or the failure to warn tenants of the hazard that is the breach of their duty.
You must also prove that you suffered injuries because of the landlord’s breach. You should seek medical attention immediately after you suffer injuries to document the injuries and timeframe, showing the breach was the proximate cause of the personal injury.
Landlord Negligence Injuries
Some causes of injuries might include:
- Unlocked pools, pools without fencing, and broken safety features on pool fences and ladders
- Items that could cause you to trip or slip and fall, including cracked or broken sidewalks, potholes, poorly maintained steps, hallways, and other floors, icy or snowy sidewalks, water leaks, and more
- Illnesses or injuries caused by a dangerous condition in the common area or in your apartment
- Dog bites in certain circumstances
- Falling items if a maintenance person is working above you
- Illnesses from dangerous conditions, such as asthma, caused by mold and mildew in the walls
- Poor lighting
- Holes in the carpeting and flooring
- Broken steps and stairs
- Broken handrails
- Malfunctioning electrical wiring or electrical parts, including the breaker box
- Malfunctioning plumbing, including no water pressure and malfunctioning water heaters
- Inadequate lighting in parking areas
These are just a few of the actions or inactions that a landlord can face liability for if they result in you suffering injuries.
Injuries Caused by a Landlord’s Actions or Inactions
The injuries you could sustain because of a landlord’s negligence could range from minor to catastrophic injuries or even death. Even a minor injury, such as a cut, could become significant if it becomes infected because of unsanitary conditions or mold and mildew in the building.
Injuries might include:
- Bumps, bruises, scratches, cuts, and punctures. These, as well as open wounds from surgeries, could become infected.
- Strains, sprains, pulled muscles, torn muscles, and other soft tissue injuries.
- Simple and compound fractures.
- Crushed bones and crush injuries.
- Internal injuries.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Ear injuries, including deafness, in the event of an explosion.
- Chemical and thermal burns.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Nerve damage.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
- Respiratory injuries due to mold, mildew, and other unsanitary conditions.
- Drownings if pools are not properly secured.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning.
Many injuries could result in secondary injuries, such as infections. New injuries could also exacerbate old injuries and illnesses, in which case, the defendant’s responsibility extends to the additional expenses, pain, and suffering for the old injuries or illnesses.
You should keep any medical records and invoices you generate after the incident, even if the treatment is for injuries or illnesses that are seemingly unrelated. Allow your attorneys and the expert witnesses to determine whether your new injuries and expenses are related to the accident.
Most people who suffer injuries because of a landlord’s negligence can claim economic damages, which have a monetary value and include:
You may have more medical expenses than you expect.
In addition to typical expenses, you could also suffer from injuries that might make you more reliant upon people for therapies and other help.
- Doctors’ appointments
- Surgeries and follow-up appointments
- Prescriptions and prescribed over-the-counter medications
- Ambulatory aids
- Home health aids
- Rehabilitation and nursing home care
- Hand controls for your vehicle
- Updates to your home, including but not limited to widened doorways, handrails, wheelchair ramps, and grab bars
- Occupational therapy
- Physical therapy
- Cognitive therapy
- Psychological therapy
If your injuries prevent you from working, you could recover lost earnings. Additionally, if your injuries cause long-term or permanent disabilities that prevent you from gainfully working for the rest of your life, you could recover compensation for the loss of future earning capacity.
Even if you can work full-time but have to take a job that pays less than you made before the incident or you can only work part-time, you could recover the difference as a loss of partial earning capacity.
Loss of Personal Property
If mold, mildew, floods, fire, or other events due to the landlord’s negligence damage your personal property, you could recover compensation to repair or replace personal property.
As soon as you move into a new rental, you should always take inventory of your items and document the date of purchase and the cost, as you have a better chance of recovering compensation with documentation.
If you lost a loved one because of a landlord’s negligence, you could recover compensation in a wrongful death action including:
- Funeral and burial expenses.
- Cremation expenses.
- Certain probate court expenses.
- Probate attorneys’ fees and costs.
Not everyone can recover non-economic damages. In most cases, you must suffer catastrophic injuries or lose a loved one, as your injuries must be long-term or permanent. Each insurance company has its definition of long-term and permanent disabilities. However, the Social Security Administration defines them as causing death or lasting more than 12 months.
Non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to take prescriptions or use ambulatory aids for the rest of your life—or if you have to make other lifelong adjustments.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy spending time with your family or attend family activities and events due to the nature of your injuries.
- Loss of consortium if you are no longer able to have a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a body part such as a leg or hand.
- Loss of use of a bodily function such as your bladder, hearing, or eyesight.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
- Excessive scarring and disfigurement.
- Inconvenience if you hire someone to do your regular chores, such as grocery shopping and house cleaning.
If you can show grossly negligent or intentional actions or inactions by the landlord, you might recover punitive damages. The court orders punitive damages as a punishment for the defendant’s gross negligence, and these are often difficult to recover. However, it is often worth the extra time and effort for the extra money if you suffer catastrophic injuries or lose a loved one.
Settling a Premises Liability Lawsuit
Depending on the landlord’s insurance company, you could settle the premises liability lawsuit or may have to go to court. If the insurance company makes a fair and reasonable offer, you can likely avoid court.
Once you win a settlement, several steps must happen. The defendant’s lawyer—usually—drafts the settlement agreement. Your attorney reviews it with you. If you do not have any changes, you will sign and notarize the agreement. The defendant’s insurance company then processes the agreement. You will likely have additional documents to sign, including a release for the insurance company. Be sure to review all documents with your attorney before signing anything.
After processing, the insurance company mails the check to your attorney, who must deposit it into an escrow or holding account. Your attorney cannot take the next steps until the check clears. Depending on the amount, it could take up to 14 days to clear.
Once the check clears, your attorney pays any outstanding medical expenses you have, so ensure you submit all of your bills to the firm. Your attorney reimburses those insurance companies if you use your health insurance or renter’s insurance to cover injuries and losses.
The amount reimbursed has been figured into the amount owed to you for your losses. Your insurance companies should not take the financial hit for your landlord’s fault—the landlord’s insurance company will take the burden of the losses you incurred.
The attorney then deducts the firm’s percentage outlined in the contingency agreement you signed before the firm started working on your case. The contingency agreement outlines the attorneys’ fees and costs and explains that you will only pay for the attorney’s services if they successfully recover compensation through settlement or court award.
Finally, the attorney cuts you a check for the remainder and mails it or electronically deposits it into your account. As soon as you deposit the check or it clears your bank after an electronic transfer, you can use the money as you wish.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one because of a landlord’s negligence, contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible for a free case evaluation.