The word is ‘negligence’
There is a golden word in any personal injury case. Without it being present, you must as well pack up your things and go home. The golden word is “negligence.”
If there was no carelessness or disregard on the part of a property owner in any slip and fall case, there is no case and no burden on the property owner to pay for damages.
It must be proved
Furthermore, such negligence must be proved.The fact that you tripped and fell on any property, does not automatically spell negligence.
Paperwork and meticulous details must be given to actually prove that a landlord or property owner actively failed to prevent an accident from happening or that he caused the condition (the root of the accident) to come about.
You’ll also have to show that the property owner had known about the unsafe condition and chose to do nothing or that it is reasonable to assume that he had some knowledge of the condition.
A slip, trip or fall inside a rental dwelling
The case of the broken steps
So, let’s say there is a series of broken steps within the apartment building where you live. You end up tripping and falling down the stairs due to the kaput steps.
The first thing your Philadelphia slip and fall lawyer will ask himself is whether the landlord knew about the condition within his building. Also, is it reasonable to assume that he should have known about it? Let’s look at a few situations.
The steps had just broken
Say something happened to the steps recently and the condition had just developed. Nobody notified the landlord. It is very unlikely that the landlord can be held responsible for any injuries.
He knew nothing about the steps and therefore he could have done nothing to fix the steps.
In fact, even the most ignorant layman will agree that it will be totally unreasonable to hold the landlord responsible in any way for something that he did not even know about.
The steps were broken, you knew about it
In this setting, the steps were already in disrepair for some time. You knew about it but told nobody anything. Again, the landlord could not be held responsible. How can he do something about it if he knew nothing and nobody took the time to inform him?
The only way the landlord could be held answerable in this setting is if the steps were already in such a bad shape that any rational landlord should have known that it will be a hazard in the near future.
On the other hand, the ball can bounce back in your court. If the rental place was in such a state of neglect that the steps are crumbling and starting to break, a jury might rule that the tenant knew about the condition of the apartment building when he moved in and that he knewwhat he was getting himself into.
One can start to understand why any personal injury case is very tricky and not easy to take on by yourself. A Philadelphia personal injury lawyer with experience in slip and fall cases will know of all the pitfalls and be the one to advise you in the best way.
The steps were broken, you told the landlord and he did not do anything
The third scenario is the one with the most probable positive outcome. The landlord was informed of the broken steps and failed to fix it. He knew about it for a reasonable time and still did nothing. Now you slipped and fell. The property owner (most likely) will be held liable for your injuries.
Still, even this scenario does not mean an automatic win. A jury could say that you should have watched where you going. Even if the steps were broken.
The model of comparative negligence is used in Pennsylvania to determine who is to blame for negligence. This model also decides how damages will be awarded. The 51% rule is followed. If the plaintiff is found to be more than 50% responsible for his own injuries, damages cannot be claimed.
The plaintiff won, but not quite
In the model of comparative negligence, the award will be reduced, percentage-wise, by how much the defendant was found negligent.
Say, for instance, in our broken steps example, the property owner was found to be 60% negligent and the plaintiff 40% because he should have watched where he was going. The plaintiff will then only have access to $60, 000 of his $100,000 award, because of the 40% ‘fault’ that can be attributed to him. He was partially responsible for his own injuries and the award is reduced by the proportionate amount to his blame.
Now, what if the same accident happened to a non-residentof the dwelling?
Owners still have a duty
Owners have a duty to keep their premises safe from any dangers that might harm someone. The situations sketched above can be made applicable to both resident and non-resident alike. The following case is a good example:
The faulty railing
The plaintiff visited a friend’s cabin near Lake Tahoe. He leaned against the deck railing of the rental property and the railing broke. The plaintiff fell, landed on his feet, but suffered severe back injuries.
When the lawyer investigated, it was found that the deck railing was installed not too long ago and that it was not properly made safe. The victim had to have two huge operations. Medical expenses were over $140, 000 and loss of income over $200,000. The court found the property owner negligent and $1.6 million in damages were recovered by the personal injury lawyers for this plaintiff.
The fact that the plaintiff was not the tenant did not have an influence on the case.
What if someone was trespassing?
Back to the broken steps
Let’s revert back to our example. A burglar is running from an apartment that he just broke into. Someone saw him and he is now fleeing.
He encounters our fictional broken steps and trips and fall. He is hurt quite seriously. The landlord knows about the broken steps and is in the process of repairing it. He gave notice to all the residents of the apartment block that the repair is in progress.
But, the burglar did not know. Can he claim damages from the landlord? In this case, the answer is no.
Not because the burglar was trespassing, but rather because the property owner was in the process of repairing the steps. He was not negligent, was trying to do something and cannot be held liable for the accident.
In Pennsylvania, an intruder may only claim for damages if the property owner was willfully negligent. This means that the intentionof the property owner was to bring on the harm to the trespasser. In all other scenarios, properties must be kept safe for all visitors – wanted or not.
An attractive nuisance
The state of Pennsylvania has an interesting exception on trespassing. Called the ‘attractive nuisance doctrine’ it states that a property owner has a high duty of care for items on his property that can be attractive for kids.
The kids might be trespassing, but it still means that the landowner can be held liable for injuries. An old rusted swing, an extremely attractive sledding area or an empty swimming pool without fencing can all count for kid-magnets. The court might say that the landowner must have foreseen that these items can be attractive for kids and that they might wander onto his property to gain access to it.
Statute of limitations
File within two years
Under Pennsylvania law, a slip, trip or fall accident liability claim must be initiated within two years of the incident happening. You cannot expect to be awarded any damages if you do not file a lawsuit within this timeframe.
This article is the perfect example of how complicated a slip and fall accident in Pennsylvania can become. If you were hurt in an accident in an apartment complex where you are not a resident and you are considering filing a claim, you should work with an experienced premises liability attorney.
Not only have they the know-how of how to go about filing your claim, but they also know about loopholes in the law. You might think you have no case, but an experienced attorney will know otherwise. Contact us today for a free consultation.