HOW DO ACCIDENTS AND INJURY CLAIMS WORK WHEN THEY HAPPEN AT AN APARTMENT COMPLEX?
Apartments pose unique circumstances when an individual is injured. Depending on the cause of the injury, the tenant renting the apartment, the landlord, or even a third-party may be liable for the injuries. It is important to include all the necessary parties in a suit so that these actors cannot play the blame game with missing defendants, ultimately resulting in an insufficient compensation for injuries. Below is a quick overview of common types of accidents that may occur in apartments, along with who would be liable for those injuries.
What Happens If I Am Injured Because Of A Dangerous Condition At An Apartment Complex?Property owners and renters are required to maintain their property in a safe condition for guests. Generally, a tenant is required to maintain his or her apartment in a reasonably safe manner. If the tenant leaves clothes on the floor or fails to clean up spilled liquids, these dangers can form the basis of a premise liability claim when they cause injury to a guest. However, as the court noted in Borders v. Roseberry, a landlord is liable for defects within a tenant’s apartment under certain circumstances. When a landlord fails to provide adequate safety features that a tenant is not permitted to add via the terms of the lease—such as failing to install a railing on stairs within the apartment—the landlord will be responsible for injuries resulting for that omission. Unlike when the tenant creates the dangerous condition, the tenant him- or herself may also recover if injured by the omission of a landlord as well.
Injuries that occur in the common areas of apartments are also actionable. A landlord is responsible for providing properly constructed common areas, maintaining them properly, and ensuring they have adequate safety features. Stairs and sidewalks are common sources of injuries in these areas. The landlord is responsible for making sure outside areas of free from accumulated ice and snow, as well as properly constructed without any defects that pose dangers to guests and tenants. Additionally, the common areas must be kept free from spilled liquids and other dangerous conditions. Again, both tenants and guests can seek redress for injuries caused by defects in common areas.
What Happens If I Am Injured By A Criminal Act At My Apartment?Under Kansas law, a landlord may be liable for injuries arising from a criminal act of a third party. In Nero v. Kansas State University, the court laid out the requirements for a landlord to be liable for such acts. First, the act must be reasonably foreseeable. This generally means that the criminal act can’t be the first to have occurred at the complex, but that is not an absolute bar. For example, if a landlord fails to provide any locks on any doors in an apartment complex, even the first criminal act of an intruder will likely create liability because the risk is so predictable. Second, the landlord must have the ability to have prevented the actions through reasonable means within the landlord’s control. Again, the lack of locks is a good example: the landlord could easily reduce or at least somewhat frustrate the criminal actions that cause the injuries by providing locks. However, if the tenant failed to use the lock provided, the landlord is not liable because actually locking the apartment door is beyond the control of the landlord.
A tenant may also be liable for injuries caused by the criminal acts of a third-party. The same factors apply, but with regard to the tenant’s apartment alone. Thus, if an apartment was experiencing a rash of burglaries and the tenant intentionally disabled the locks on her apartment door, the tenant would be responsible for injuries to a guest resulting from a burglary. However, the tenant will not be responsible for criminal acts if the landlord is solely responsible for the failure to provide protection—if the doors didn’t have locks to begin with.
Finally—and likely of the least help—the criminal actor will also be liable for his or her own criminal acts that result in injury. This is generally of little help because the criminal actor is unlikely to have sufficient assets to satisfy a judgment. Criminal actors will be without insurance to cover their intentional and criminal acts, which is in contrast to the landlord (in almost all circumstances) and possibly the tenant. Additionally, the liability that attaches to the criminal actor will be independent from the liability that attaches to the landlord or tenant. The criminal actor will be responsible for an “intentional tort,” while the landlord will be negligent for failing to take adequate steps to keep residents and guests safe. This means that if the criminal actor is capable of satisfying the judgment, the injured party may recover from the criminal actor and the landlord.
What If I Am Injured Because Of The Actions Of Another Tenant?Apartments place tenants within close proximity of one another. And this can lead to actions of one tenant resulting in injury of other tenants. A common example of this is a fire being set by one tenant and spreading to other apartments. Tenants must generally use their property in a way that does not pose a foreseeable risk to other tenants. Thus, the key to determining if one tenant is responsible for the injuries of another is whether the injury was something the tenant should have known could result from the actions. The same is true for injuries caused by one tenant to the guests of another tenant.
When an individual is injured at an apartment, it may be difficult to determine who is responsible for the injuries. The cause of the injuries is the first step, but that alone may not answer the question. Experienced legal counsel will be able to determine the best legal course to make sure injuries are fully compensated. Thus, it is important to quickly contact an attorney after being injured at an apartment complex, whether inside a tenant’s apartment or in the common areas of the apartment.