Tenants who are hurt in accidents on the landlord’s property usually have the option to bring a personal injury claim against the landlord for compensation. You can often resolve these matters without filing a formal lawsuit, however, and rarely will you need to go to trial. After a minor accident, you may be able to get appropriate compensation by negotiating with the landlord and their insurer on your own, rather than hiring a lawyer. By contrast, if you have suffered serious injuries, consulting a lawyer is probably helpful. These may involve claims of medical costs and lost income over $10,000, an injury that permanently disables you, or severe toxic exposure, among other situations.
First Steps After an Accident
The most important priority, especially if you have serious injuries, is to seek medical attention immediately. Only after you have seen a doctor should you consider pursuing legal action against the landlord. In addition to providing the treatment that you need, seeing a doctor can help you document the scope and severity of your injuries. Your doctor’s report and possibly their testimony may be critical in persuading an insurer or a jury about the amount of compensation that you need.
You should also make sure to follow the doctor’s instructions and pursue any reasonable course of treatment that the doctor requires. Otherwise, the landlord may argue that your injuries worsened because you acted unreasonably. (You are not expected to undergo treatments that are above and beyond what the doctor suggests, though.)
Remember that you will need various types of evidence to support your claim. This may involve your own impressions of what happened, which you should record as soon as possible. It also will involve documentation of your financial losses, which may consist of items like doctors’ bills, pay stubs, and transportation receipts. If possible, you should take photos or videos of the hazard that caused the accident. Anyone who saw your accident should be contacted as a potential witness. Even if their version of events differs from yours, you will want to know that so that you can prepare to rebut them.
Finally, you should notify the landlord of the accident and ask them to contact their insurance provider. If the landlord does not comply promptly, suspecting that your case lacks value, you can move forward toward bringing a lawsuit until the landlord takes action. As noted above, most claims result in a settlement rather than a trial.
Establishing the Negligence of the Landlord
Most often, a victim will argue that they were injured because the landlord was careless (or “negligent,” in legal terms). This means that the landlord failed to act reasonably under the circumstances, and the accident was a foreseeable result. Certain factors help shape an evaluation of reasonableness and foreseeability. These include whether the landlord controlled the place where the accident happened or the thing that caused the accident, whether it was likely that the accident would occur given the circumstances, whether a serious injury was likely to result, and how much it would have cost the landlord to reduce the risk of an accident. Assuming that these factors are in your favor, you will need to prove that the landlord did not take reasonable steps to prevent an accident, and this failure by your landlord caused the accident.
Other Grounds for Landlord Liability
A landlord is often required to comply with various health or safety laws, and their failure to do so is usually considered automatically negligent, such that it makes them liable for any resulting accidents. If the landlord fails to make appropriate repairs, or if they make repairs in a negligent way, they can be held accountable. (If you arranged with the landlord to handle certain repairs on your own, by contrast, they cannot be held accountable for your carelessness in making them.) Also, sometimes a serious defect arises that causes a unit to be uninhabitable. If the landlord knew of the defect but failed to fix it, you can sue on the ground that they violated the implied warranty of habitability.
Less frequently, a landlord may have acted recklessly or intentionally in causing the harm. This may result in punitive damages, which are an additional category of damages that can be awarded. Whether conduct is reckless instead of just careless is very fact-specific and unpredictable, as is the size of a punitive damages award. Punitive damages are also available if a landlord acted intentionally. This may involve an assault, sexual harassment, or invasions of privacy that cause emotional distress.
You can bring these types of claims in addition to a standard negligence claim. Victims are not limited to a single basis for liability.
Types of Compensation
Compensation in personal injury cases can cover both economic and non-economic harm. (Visit our personal injury section for a more thorough discussion of this topic.) In general, economic damages include medical bills, costs of future treatment, lost income, and lost earning capacity caused by permanent disabilities. Non-economic damages include your subjective pain and suffering, any scarring or disfigurement, a reduction in your quality of life, and emotional distress resulting from damage to your personal relationships or any psychological trauma from the accident. It may seem hard to prove non-economic damages, but prescriptions for pain medication as well as testimony from doctors and people who know you can help corroborate your claims.
The landlord or their insurer may argue that your compensation should be reduced because you were partly at fault for causing the accident. Perhaps you were distracted and not paying attention to your surroundings. If proven, this can result in a reduction of your damages. The degree to which they will be reduced will depend on the state. Only a few states prevent a victim from recovering damages entirely if they were at all at fault. Most states allow a victim to recover damages that are proportionate to the defendant’s percentage of fault for causing the accident. In some of these states, however, there is a threshold percentage of the victim’s fault (such as 50 or 51 percent) above which they cannot recover any damages.