The answer to this question, like so many others in the legal arena, is “it depends.” The simple fact that your injury occurred on your landlord’s property — or property owned by any other person, for that matter — does not automatically confer responsibility for your harm on the property owner. There must be more to the situation. Specifically, there must be a “causal link” between the property and your injury. In other words, the property had to have caused your injury despite your exercise of reasonable care.
We see this scenario often in cases where a property has a hidden hazard that catches a visitor unaware and causes a slip and fall or a trip and fall. There could be a loose floor tile, a pothole, or an abrupt change in level that a person exercising reasonable care doesn’t notice and trips over. In such cases, the injured party must show the hazard caused the injury and:
- The hazard was hidden — When a hazard is “open and obvious,” the victim has a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid it. With a readily apparent hazard, a court could rule the fall was the victim’s own fault, unless there was no reasonable way to avoid the hazard.
- The landlord knew or should have known about the hazard — A landlord has a duty to be reasonable about discovering dangerous conditions on the property. The hazard cannot be so well hidden that a diligent landlord would have missed it.
- The landlord should have cured the hazard — The court looks at factors such as notice and timing to judge whether a landlord has been reasonable. If tenants complained about the hazard and enough time had elapsed without the landlord acting to repair the problem, the landlord could be found unreasonable.
If a visitor proves all these elements, the landlord would be liable for the injury. However, when the injured party is a tenant, the situation is a little more complicated. The tenant, after all, has knowledge of the property and often has responsibility for maintaining it. The court might ask:
- Did the tenant know about the hazard?
- Did the tenant notify the landlord of the hazard?
- Did the tenant have the ability and/or the duty to perform maintenance on this type of hazards?
If the tenant knew the hazard existed but never bothered to tell the landlord, and the tenant could have repaired the problem but didn’t, a court could find the tenant was unreasonable. In such a case, the landlord’s responsibility for the injury could be reduced in proportion to the tenant’s responsibility, or the tenant could be barred completely from collecting damages from the landlord.
Premises liability accidents often make for complex legal cases. If you’ve been injured in a slip and fall accident in Bergen County or anywhere in New Jersey, Seigel Law is ready to help. Contact us online or call 201.444.4000 today for a free consultation and case evaluation.