Landlord Liability for Personal Injury

Landlords may be liable for personal injury if they fail to maintain safe common areas such as common stairs, common walkways and hallways, cabanas and clubhouses, pools, and playgrounds.

Residential landlords are obligated to keep rental units safe under the warranty of habitability. The warranty of habitability imposes upon landlords a duty to keep the premises in reasonably safe condition. The warranty of habitability requires the landlord abide by laws and building codes that keep the rental safe; maintain structural components including roofs, floors, walls, chimneys, fireplaces, foundations; keep any shared or common areas reasonably safe from defects increasing the hazards of fire or accident; maintain all electrical, plumbing, heating systems; and equip the rental unit with a smoke detector, among other duties.

Landlords may also be liable if the lease contract requires the landlord to maintain a component of the property, the landlord fails to do so, and this failure results in injury.

Travis Scott Eller has decades of experience in both personal injury and landlord-tenant law. He has lectured on landlord-tenant law at continuing legal education and industry seminars many times. He had tried landlord-tenant law related cases and successfully argued them in the Court of Appeals.

If you have been injured on a rental property contact our office for a free personal injury case evaluation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Institute for Trial Advocacy

 

 

 

 

 

Pocket Brief on Landlord Liability for Personal Injury

“The case law is quite confusing in this area.” This is the conclusion of the Washington Supreme Court Committee on Jury Instructions in the official comments in the Washington Pattern Jury Instructions.[1] Information on this website is never a substitute for legal advice, and in an area of law that is unsettled and evolving it is particularly wise to consult with a lawyer about your circumstances. Nevertheless, you may find this short summary on the law of landlord liability for personal injury informative.

Landlord liability for personal injury may be based on 1) common law, 2) the warranty of habitability, or 3) breach of the rental agreement.

Common law.

A landlord has a duty to use ordinary care to keep common areas (common stairs, common hallways, playgrounds, etc.) in a reasonably safe condition. This duty applies to both residential and commercial rental properties.[2]

A landlord is liable for injury caused by an open and obvious dangerous condition if the landlord should anticipate that the tenant (or a guest of the tenant), will make use of the common area in spite of such open and obvious condition.[3]

The duty to keep common areas safe includes removal of snow and ice.[4]

The warranty of habitability.

There is an implied warranty of habitability in all residential tenancies.[5]  Breach of the warranty of habitability can be the basis for liability for personal injury if the condition makes the rental property unsafe.[6]

Breach of statues or building codes related to electrical fire safety or the use of smoke alarms is negligence per se (as opposed to mere evidence of negligence).[7] 

Breach of the rental agreement.

The landlord may be liable for personal injury based on breach of contract if (a) the landlord has contracted to keep the rental unit in repair; (b) the disrepair creates an unreasonable risk that if the landlord had followed the rental agreement would have been prevented; and (c) the landlord fails to exercise reasonable care in performing the lease contract.[8]

____________

[1] WPI 130.06. While admittedly the comment was directed to a narrower legal point, it applies just as well to the topic of landlord tort liability as a whole.

[2] RCW 59.18.060(3). Cherberg v. Peoples Nat. Bank, 88 Wn.2d 595, 564 P.2d 1137 (1977).

[3] Curtis v. Lein, 169 Wn.2d 884, 239 P.3d 1078 (2010) (regarding a tenant's use of a dock); Tincani v. Inland Empire Zoological Soc'y, 124 Wn.2d 121, 139, 875 P.2d 621 (1994).

[4] Geise v. Lee, 84 Wn.2d 866, 529 P.2d 1054 (1975).

[5] Foisy v. Wyman, 83 Wn.2d 22, 515 P.2d 160 (1973); RCW 59.18.060.

[6] Lian v. Stalick, 115 Wn.App. 590, 62 P.3d 933 (2003).

[7] RCW 5.40.050.

[8] Tucker v. Hayford, 118 Wn.App. 246 at 251, 75 P.3d 980 (Div. 3 2003).

.

Landlord Responsibility for Injuries to Guests

Sometimes a tenant’s guests are injured because of a dangerous condition in the rental property. Whether the landlord is legally responsible for injuries to a tenant’s guests depends on various factors including whether the property is commercial or residential, whether the injury occurred in a common area, whether the lease contract requires repairs, whether the […]

Continue reading

Assault Victim Sues Apartment

This article discusses a Court of Appeals opinion our firm did not participate in. Gilberto was walking home one night when he noticed two men following him. They assaulted Gilberto in a poorly lit area of the apartment complex in which he lived. Gilberto sued the apartment complex. He alleged that the apartment was aware […]

Continue reading

Child Burned by Radiator in Apartment

Renato and Joleen lived with their two small children in an apartment. One day when Joleen was alone with the kids Joleen heard one child screaming. She was in the bathroom, and could not see the kids. At first she assumed it was horseplay. When the screaming continued Joleen went to investigate. Joleen discovered her […]

Continue reading

Suing John Doe

A tenant filed a personal injury lawsuit against his landlords one day before the statute of limitations was to run. The complaint named the landlord and “John Does 1-20,” but did not name the owners of the property, or describe facts that would make it clear the tenant intended to name the owner as well […]

Continue reading

Another Brick in the Fall

A tenant noticed that a stone above the fireplace mantel was loose and about to fall. She was alarmed that it might fall and injure a child playing nearby. She tried to hold it, but it fell and injured her shoulder. She sued her landlord for personal injury.

Continue reading

Landlord-Tenant Personal Injury FAQs

Some landlord’s have insurance with coverage for medical expenses, often called “Medical Pay” coverage or “med pay” for short. This covers medical expenses from personal injury regardless of fault.

If a landlord does not have med pay coverage, medical expenses would be part of the personal injury claim and would have to wait for settlement.

If a tenant’s insurance covers medical expenses and that tenant recovers for personal injury from the landlord, the tenant might have to reimburse their own insurance company under legal rules called subrogation. You will need to be sure this is accounted for in any personal injury settlement.

A personal injury attorney can help investigate your claim and answer any questions.

If a tenant or guest is injured on rental property there may be a personal injury claim.

One important factor is where the accident happened. For example, did the injury occur in a common area like a pool or common staircase, or inside a dwelling unit? If inside a dwelling unit, did the tenant give the landlord notice of the defect?

In some situations laws protect both the tenants and guests. In other situations this is less clear.

Consult with an attorney for information about your situation.

Load More

206-801-1188