Review of Rental Property Accident Lawsuits In California
California property owners have a duty of care to maintain premises free of unreasonable risks for their tenants.
Victims who were hurt on the rental property could file an injury lawsuit against the property owner, landlord, the company responsible for maintaining the property, negligent employees that caused the accident, and the tenant.
In rental property lawsuits, suing multiple defendants is fairly common, but of course, will always depend on the circumstances of the case.
Did you twist your ankle when you tripped on a loose step in your apartment building? Or slice your hand open on a broken window pane?
Did you sustain a concussion when heavy items fell off a shelf in a storage area maintained by the landlord for tenants' use?
In many cases, it's not always clear-cut who caused the dangerous condition causing a victim's injuries. Thus, as noted, multiple parties are often named as a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit.
It's also common for defendants to share liability if more than one of them were partially responsible for the accident, which is why you will need legal advice from an attorney.
If you were injured on the property you are renting, you may be wondering if you can sue your landlord.
On this page from our California personal injury lawyers, we will explain the basics of the law, and what you can expect so you can make an informed decision.
Warranty of Habitability
California tenants have a legal right to the habitability of their residences:
- safe stairs and railings,
- working plumbing and electrical,
- floors that are safe and in good condition,
- storage areas free of combustible materials, and more.
If a tenant has requested repairs of an item or condition listed under this law, and the landlord has not made the repairs within a specified time, the tenant has several options up to and including taking legal action.
In California, premises liability law mandates that a property owner must exercise ordinary care in managing their property, so people are not exposed to an unreasonable risk of harm. (Brooks v. Eugene Burger Management Corp. (1989))
The owner of the property, or the landlord, is the most common party that is held liable for an injury sustained on their rental properties.
They have a legal duty to keep the premises safe because they typically have control of the property to make the needed repairs.
If the rental property is a residential home, the landlord is normally under an obligation to keep the common areas and the building in a reasonably safe condition, including:
- smoke detectors,
- fixtures such as gates and fences,
- electrical wiring,
- windows and doors,
- interior walls and ceiling,
If the rental property is commercial, the landlord's responsibilities will normally be controlled by a rental agreement, rather than California state laws. Most often, a commercial tenant has more legal duties than a residential tenant.
Commercial landlords normally retain a property management company to handle all the daily maintenance on the business premises, but this will not typically relieve a landlord's responsibility to maintain the property.
However, if the management company fails to keep the premises safe, they could be held liable for negligent upkeep.
In some cases, the tenant could be liable for injuries occurring on the premises. Put simply, if a renter's items cause an accident resulting in an injury, they are responsible and could be held liable if they break their lease agreement.
In some premises liability lawsuits, the defendant is the employee whose negligence directly caused the accident and injuries.
In most cases, the employee works for the property owner or the property management company that is responsible for the premises.
The employee's negligence will typically lead back to their employer. Tenants who were injured can hold the employer liable which means they would pay the cost for the employee's negligence.
What You Will Need To Prove
If you were harmed because of the way your landlord managed their property, you will need to prove all of the following:
- Legal duty of care: Your landlord owned, leased, occupied, or controlled the property.
- Breach of the legal duty of care: Your landlord was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property.
- Proximate cause resulting in injury: You were harmed, and your landlord's negligence was a substantial factor in causing your harm.
Legal Duty of Care
Several factors will be considered in deciding whether your landlord used reasonable care, including but not limited to where the property is located, the likelihood and probable seriousness of harm, and whether or not the landlord was or should have been aware of the condition that posed the risk of harm.
In making a premises liability determination, the following decisions are applied. In both cases, the landlord breached their legal duty of care.
Rowland v. Christian (1968)
A landlord was found guilty of negligence that caused injury when a guest on the rental property was injured when a sink faucet broke apart in his hand. The landlord was aware the faucet was cracked but neither fixed it nor warned the person before he entered the bathroom.
The court decided the landlord was aware of a concealed condition (the cracked faucet) that posed an unreasonable risk of harm to those coming in contact with it.
Further, the landlord was aware the tenant's guest was about to come in contact with the faucet. This failure to make the repair or warn the person constituted negligence.
“Whether or not a guest has a right to expect their host to remedy dangerous conditions on his account, he should reasonably be entitled to depend upon a warning of the dangerous condition so that he, like the host, will be in a position to take special precautions when he comes in contact with it.”
Kesner v. Superior Court (2016)
In this case, the central question was whether the owner of a property in which workers were exposed to asbestos was responsible for injuries to members of the worker's family who were exposed to asbestos brought home on the worker's clothes.
The decision was made that the landlord's duty of care was not limited to injuries that occurred on the property.
Awards for Damages
If you decide to sue your landlord under the premises liability law, you can seek the following types of damages.
Compensatory: Examples include medical bills, damage to your personal property, and lost wages, lost earning capacity, pain and suffering, or disfigurement.
Punitive: These would only come into play if the landlord is found guilty of malice, oppression, or fraud. Punitive damages are paid in addition to compensatory damages.
Defendant's in a personal injury lawsuit who was found liable for a tenant or victim's injuries will be required to compensate the victim for their:
- medical bills and expenses,
- emergency room bills
- lost wages,
- lost earning capacity,
- pain and suffering,
- emotional distress.
The damages in a personal injury claim are normally paid by the liable party's insurance company. This means adequate insurance coverage is a crucial factor in recovering full compensation.
If the insurance coverage is insufficient, then the victim might not recover what they deserve. This is why it's important to hold a property owner liable for the negligence that caused your injuries.
Common Defenses for Landlords
Because California is a “comparative fault” state, the landlord can attempt to find the tenant or tenant's guest partly or wholly responsible for their injury.
Factors that may be considered include, but are not limited to:
- Was there a warning sign the tenant or guest should have seen but did not?
- Were they distracted by texting when they were injured?
- Were they behaving sensibly?
- Were they supposed to be there?
Injury Justice Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County and serves victims of negligence throughout Southern California.
We offer a free case consultation by calling (818) 781-1570 or filling out our contact form here.