Most dangerous property conditions are the result of a failure to maintain the property in good condition. Inadequate maintenance can give rise to a slip and fall, negligent security, or a swimming pool accident. Some typical types of inadequate maintenance include unrepaired fixtures, fallen merchandise, spills, broken windows, cracked sidewalks or tiles, broken locks, lack of security cameras, loose handrails, cluttered walkways, and overgrown vegetation.
Duty to Inspect
Owners or occupiers typically have a duty to inspect their property at reasonable intervals to discover dangerous conditions, regardless of whether they receive complaints.
All property owners are expected to maintain their properties and make reasonable repairs to avoid injuries to visitors to the property. However, in practice, property owners are often behind in inspecting, identifying, and fixing any dangerous conditions. It is only after someone is actually injured that the property owner takes steps to repair a dangerous condition or obtain adequate security. For example, customers may complain that there are broken lights near the entrance of a dance club, but it may be only after somebody is mugged or raped that the property owner fixes the broken lights.
Condominiums or homeowners' associations can also be held liable for failing to maintain a common area or to keep the common area clear of preventable hazards. The paperwork that creates the condominium board or homeowners' association may spell out the obligations of that entity on the property. Among other things, it may define common areas for which the entity is responsible.
Liability is usually found if the condominium or homeowners' association created the hazard, or if it knew or should have known of the hazard. For example, the owners of individual units may complain to the condominium or homeowners' association that steps on the ladder of the common swimming pool are broken. If the condominium board fails to make repairs or makes repairs negligently, and somebody is injured, the board may have to pay damages.
Who Is At Fault For Inadequate Maintenance?
An injured visitor, tenant, or unit owner may be able to sue for compensatory damages, both economic and noneconomic. Economic damages that may be recovered include medical expenses, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost income. Noneconomic damages that may be recovered include mental anguish and pain and suffering. The spouse of an injured person may also claim loss of consortium. Damages may be reduced if the accident victim is found to be partly at fault.
Third-party contractors, such as landscaping or snow removal companies, are often also defendants in premises liability actions.
A property owner can sometimes shift liability to a third party who was retained to fix a dangerous condition. For example, a property owner may try to blame a security company that was hired to prevent criminal activity in a negligent security case. Or, in another situation, a homeowners' association may try to blame a landscaping contractor it retained to maintain the landscaped common areas.
In most jurisdictions, the duty to maintain and the duty to keep the premises secure are "non-delegable duties." The landowner is ultimately responsible for the criminal action in the negligent security case, and the homeowner's association is ultimately responsible for maintenance of the common area. However, the property owner or association can try to obtain an "indemnity" or reimbursement from whoever was retained or hired to maintain or keep secure the premises. Often, a contract between the property owner and the maintenance or security company will spell out whether there is an obligation for the company to indemnify the property owner.