Tenant Injuries: Landlord Liability and Insurance FAQ

Even a good landlord occasionally finds themselves in a tricky situation. When a tenant injures themselves, there are a number of situations in which a landlord could find themselves liable for the injuries. This is especially true in instances when the tenant has just moved in. Central to the question of liability for premises and personal injury lawsuits is the role of negligence.

In order for a tenant to make a successful case against their landlord, they must be able to prove that the landlord was negligent in their duties to maintain a safe residence. What precisely does this entail?

The Role of Negligence in Premises Liability for Landlords

In order for a landlord to be held negligent in a premises liability suit, the tenant/plaintiff must be able to prove that either:

  1. The landlord knew about the safety hazard and did nothing to correct it
  2. That landlord should have known about the safety hazard

The first criterion pretty much speaks for itself. A tenant makes a landlord aware of an issue, the landlord doesn’t act on that information, and then a tenant or guest is injured because of the safety hazard. This is when the landlord could be liable for the damages.

The second criterion means that negligence can be inferred circumstantially under different situations. For instance, a landlord cannot claim ignorance of the fact that there is lead-based paint on their premises. Nor can they claim ignorance of the fact that any materials that were used in the construction of the property are potentially hazardous. The landlord is expected to know this information and to disclose it to anyone that is paying to reside in the property.

In addition, negligence can sometimes be inferred when a landlord does not provide a careful inspection of the premises before a tenant moves in. If the tenant is injured or has property destroyed due to a preventable and obvious problem on the premises, they can be held liable for damages and injuries.

How to Minimize Premises Liability for Landlords

It should not be a shocking revelation that landlords who keep their premises in excellent condition seldom lose or even have to fight premises liability lawsuits. Making a careful inspection of the property before a new tenant moves in and responding to tenant issues promptly will absolve a landlord of most negligence claims against them.

What you should do:

  • Develop a good rapport with your tenant and encourage them to report any issues with the property promptly. Respond to those issues in a timely manner.
  • Develop a checklist for conducting inspections each time a new tenant moves in. Promptly find and fix any safety issues.
  • Be sure to keep receipts and records of repairs that were done in response to tenant complaints.
  • Take care of any safety issues within 24 hours of being reported. Be sure to keep an open line of communication with your tenants and give them an approximate timeline.

The Role of Insurance in Protecting Landlords from Liability

One popular way that landlords protect themselves is by investing in General Liability (GL) policies. GL policies protect owners from safety issues that may occur on the premises. They cover the cost associated with potential damages awarded to tenants and the cost of defending yourself against the claim.

What level of coverage should you purchase?

  • Choose a policy that insures the value of your property and assets. What insurance won’t cover, plaintiffs can dredge out of your investments.
  • You’ll want a policy that covers not only personal injury, but other liability issues such as discrimination, wrongful eviction, and invasion of privacy.

Personal Injury Lawsuits vs. Landlords

A tenant will win a personal injury lawsuit against their landlord when they can prove:

  1. It was the landlord’s responsibility to repair the defect that caused the injury.
  2. The landlord was notified of the problem.
  3. Fixing the problem would not have been unreasonably difficult or expensive.
  4. The injury was the likely result of failing to fix the problem or the injury would not have occurred if the problem had been fixed.
  5. The tenant suffered legitimate injuries as a result of the accident.

If a tenant can prove all of these, or that the landlord should have known about the problem the tenant is entitled to recover:

  • Medical expenses
  • Missed time from work
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium

If, as a result of the injuries, the tenant is left permanently disabled, damages can be awarded into the millions in favor of the plaintiff. If the injuries are caused to a child on the premises, and the result is a permanent developmental disability, you can find yourself in serious financial trouble, to say the least.

The truth is, most premises liability claims against landlords can be easily avoided by carefully inspecting the property before a new tenant moves in, ensuring that you respond to the tenant’s issues promptly, and covering your bases in terms of having the proper levels of insurance. Landlords who follow this simple advice will never have to worry about fighting a premises liability lawsuit.

Last Updated: 
April 30, 2018

Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.

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