Using the Terms of a Lease Agreement to Hold a Landlord Liable in a Pennsylvania Trip-and-Fall Case
When you are injured in a trip-and-fall accident, you have to be prepared on many fronts in order to achieve a successful outcome. You need to be prepared to figure out whom you should sue. You also need to be prepared to respond to the defenses that the property owner will deploy to attempt to defeat your case and avoid liability. To ensure that you’re properly prepared, you need to retain an experienced Pennsylvania trip-and-fall attorney to go to work on your side.
One recent example of a trip-and-fall case addressed by the Superior Court was an accident suffered by a woman named Tina. Tina was visiting her daughter at the daughter’s home in Blair County when Tina tripped and fell on the front stairs to the home. The daughter’s home was a rental property.
When you are injured in a trip-and-fall accident as a result of a hazardous condition on a piece of property, you may be entitled to recover damages. One of the keys to achieving a successful outcome is identifying the correct person or entity that was responsible for the safety of the property and suing that person or entity. If the property is occupied by the owner, choosing the person to sue may be fairly straightforward. If the property is leased, the decision may be more complex, since you must identify whether the tenant or the landlord had the legal responsibility to ensure the safety of the property.
In Tina’s case, she sued the landlord that owned the property. The owner sought to avoid liability by making two arguments. One, it contended that it was an “owner out of possession, occupancy, or control.” In general, the law says that owners that do not control a property are not liable for harm like what happened to Tina. Alternatively, the owner argued that Tina could have avoided the allegedly dangerous front steps by using the rear entrance to the property and that, by going in through the front, she assumed the risk of potential injury.
Despite these arguments, Tina defeated the owner’s requests for summary judgment in its favor. The law recognizes six exceptions to the general rule that an “owner out of possession” cannot be legally liable. One of those exceptions applies to situations in which the landlord “reserved control over a defective portion of the demised premises.” In other words, if the landlord continued to maintain some control over the area where the accident occurred, it is potentially liable even though it is an “owner out of possession.” This landlord’s lease agreement with Tina’s daughter explicitly barred the tenant from doing any maintenance or repairs on the property. That prohibition meant that Tina had an arguable claim that the landlord continued to maintain control over the stairs and, based on that, was potentially liable.
The courts also did not accept the owner’s “assumption of the risk” argument. When a property owner makes this argument in your trip-and-fall case, it is important to have quality evidence that shows that your behavior did not amount to an assumption of the risk. In this case, Tina had evidence that the rear entrance was blocked when she was hurt. If true, that meant that Tina did not have an option of entering the home in any other way except the allegedly dangerous front steps, which would mean that her using those front steps could not qualify as an “assumption of the risk” under Pennsylvania law.
If you’ve been injured in a trip-and-fall accident, don’t wait. Act promptly to protect your rights. Contact the knowledgeable Pennsylvania trip-and-fall attorneys at Needle Law Firm, who have many years’ experience providing skillful advocacy and personalized attention to our clients and are ready to put our skills to work for you.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation by calling 570-344-1266.