For a landlord to be held responsible for injuries sustained on his premises by tenants or by visitors, those who are seeking compensation must prove certain elements of a premises liability case. One of the key elements is foreseeability.
Forbes recently reported on one case in which the court initially held the plaintiff could not move forward with a personal injury claim against a landlord because the injuries were not foreseeable. Higher courts overturned the dismissal of the case. The litigation is a clear example of how complicated it can become to determine when a property owner should compensate a victim for injuries on a property.
When Does a Property Owner Become Responsible for Injuries?
A property owner is liable for injuries if:
- The owner breached a legal duty, or failed to live up to obligations to tenants or to visitors.
- The owner's breach was the direct cause of damage or harm, like a physical injury of some type.
- The harm sustained was foreseeable, or was a predictable result of the property owner's actions or inactions.
In the case Forbes reported on, there were two children who lived in an apartment complex with their respective mothers. The children were cousins but lived in different apartments. They were playing together on property belonging to the landlord located outside of the building. There was a variety of debris in the area where they were playing, including broken bits of concrete, rocks, and cinderblocks.
One of the two children decided he wanted to see if he could break a cinderblock by throwing it from a third floor apartment. He told his cousin to get out of the way and he took the block up to the apartment, tossing it down to the area below where his cousin was playing. She was not able to move out of the path of the falling cinderblock, which hit her on the head. The result of the tragic accident was the seven-year-old victim's skull being crushed. She also sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Her family sued the landlord. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit because it was not foreseeable a child would pick up a brick, carry it upstairs, and toss it down on someone's head. However, the appeals court reversed. The case went to the state Supreme Court, which upheld the reversal of the dismissal. The state supreme court said the case should go forward and a jury should decide whether or not the plaintiff deserved compensation for her losses from the landlord.
The justification for allowing the case to move forward was the fact the items lying around the apartment presented a risk of some type of harm. Danger due to bricks and broken bits of concrete in a back ally existed, and because there was some harm foreseeable, this is sufficient to make it possible for the landlord to be liable for losses. It is up to the jury to decide if the landlord should be.