I was hurt by something at my apartment or rental home. Am I entitled to compensation?
Premises liability is a complex area of law. In other videos (“Duty to Invitees”) we’ve talked about duties owed to those who visit someone else’s property. What about those who live on someone else’s property, like apartments? Or for those owners who lease the land for public use? In each case, the owner owes a duty to the tenants or others on the land, with some exceptions.
The basic rule is that the owner is not able to be sued for injuries that tenants or others incurred due to a dangerous condition that was present when the lessee took possession. Kind of surprising, isn’t it? The exceptions make this bitter pill a little easier to swallow.
- Failure to tell the tenant about a dangerous condition that poses an unreasonable risk of harm to the tenant. This exception comes into play when the owner knows or should know of the condition and should know the danger to the tenant. It also requires that the owner thinks the tenant won’t find out about the condition or the risk of danger and that the tenant doesn’t actually know or shouldn’t know about it. Example: mold infestation.
- Owner tells the tenant (usually in the lease) that there is something that needs to be repaired and that they will make the repairs, but fail to do so.
- Owner makes the repairs in a negligent manner, such as using substandard materials or trying to repair something they don’t know how to do. This one and #2 are based more on the owner’s negligence than merely the fact that they own the land.
- Owner keeps part of the leased premises under their control, but lets the tenant use that space. The easiest example here is the common area of apartment complexes, like club houses, stairways, elevators, etc. The law usually says that the tenant has the exclusive right of possession and the owner can’t come onto the property during the lease. However, if the owner reserves the right to enter only to make repairs, Shell Oil Co. v. Khan, a case decided by the Texas Supreme Court in 2004, the owner has not kept enough control over the property for this exception to apply.
- The last exception is when the owner leases the land for recreational purposes which involve public admission to the land. In this case, the owner is liable for injuries if they knew or should have known of a condition that presented an unreasonable risk of harm and believes the lessee will open the land to the public before steps have been taken to make it safe and doesn’t make reasonable efforts to fix the condition or keep the public safe. A good example is opening land as a campground.
There’s a little more to talk about when it comes to recreational use. Texas has a law covering the use of land for recreation. The law puts limits on owner liability. If the law fits the situation, neither the owner, lessee or occupier owes anyone any duty greater than what would be owed to a trespasser. Basically, they owe no duty other than to not cause injuries to anyone either on purpose or through gross negligence.
When does this law apply? There are three conditions that have to be met for it to apply. They are:
- The defendant in your suit is the owner, lessee or occupier of the land.
- You come onto the land for a recreational purpose. The definition of recreational purpose is pretty broad. Basically, it’s doing anything that involves enjoying the outdoors. Some examples are:
- Water skiing; and
Note: Texas courts have held that “recreational activity” does not include outdoor weddings.
- You meet one of three financial options for entering the land. They are:
- You were not charged any money for admission.
- You were only charged an amount that is less than 20 times the ad valorem taxes the owner paid the year before. This basically means you weren’t charged more than 20 times more than the owner’s property taxes as admission.
- The owner, lessee or occupier has the insurance required by law. The minimum coverage is $500,000 per person, $1M for every instance of bodily injury or death and $100,000 for every injury or property destruction.
Owners, lessees and occupiers get an extra benefit from the “adequate insurance” part of the law. That benefit is a cap on damages that is equal to the insurance money you can recover. This means that they don’t have to pay you a cent over the insurance pay-out.
As you can see, this is a complex area of law. If you’re a tenant or going for some recreational activity and you’re injured, you need and experienced personal injury lawyer on your side. Call Justinian and Associates today for a free consultation.