Renting a home or apartment involves an agreement between a landlord and the tenant(s) who occupy the premises. Tenants are obliged to pay rent, along with other expenses specified in the lease, such as utilities.
In addition, Michigan law requires landlords to keep their rental properties in good repair, free of hazards and unsafe conditions. If a landlord fails to uphold this duty and someone is injured as a result, the victim may be able to sue for compensation. However, proving landlord liability is a complicated legal process that usually requires the expertise of a qualified personal injury attorney.
Here’s a guide to determining responsibility for injuries incurred in a slip and fall accident.
Slip and fall lawsuits come under the category of “premises liability” claims. In order to pursue legal action, a plaintiff has to prove the landlord or property owner was negligent.
This means the situation must meet the following conditions:
In other words, the defendant’s failure to maintain a safe environment must be the explicit cause of the renter’s slip and fall accident wherein the victim was hurt. For example, if a tenant or visitor tripped and fell on a broken step and fractured an arm, the victim may have grounds for a lawsuit.
In a multi-unit rental property, such as an apartment complex, the landlord is typically responsible for common areas such as sidewalks, laundry rooms, pool areas, lobbies, common hallways and stairways.
Tenants are usually responsible for hazards inside an apartment such as loose throw rugs or spilled liquids. However, the tenant is not typically liable for an interior condition resulting from something the landlord is responsible for.
For example, suppose a tenant arrived home and slipped in a puddle caused by a leaky roof or malfunctioning dishwasher. Then, the landlord could be liable providing the tenant was unaware of the puddle prior to leaving the apartment.
If the tenant failed to inform the landlord about a dangerous condition such as a protruding floorboard, the tenant could be liable if someone else were injured as a result of the hazard.
However, as in any personal injury case, the plaintiff still has to prove negligence on the part of the defendant.
This depends on several factors. Some lease agreements, used for rental homes rather than apartments, state that the tenant is responsible for snow and ice removal. If so, the tenant could be liable if a visitor falls on an icy front step and breaks a leg. However, the victim would still have to prove negligence on the part of the tenant.
Also, in many cases, ice and snow are considered “open and obvious” because they are a predictable occurrence during Michigan winters. Therefore, the courts expect people to anticipate icy and snow-covered surfaces and use appropriate caution when walking outdoors. In some cases, courts have ruled against plaintiffs who were injured after falling on black ice, which is invisible by definition. Obvious.
Recommended Reading: How the Open and Obvious Law Affects Michigan Slip and Fall Cases
Additionally, liability is also affected by Michigan’s “natural accumulation” rule. Similar to the open and obvious law, this principle is used as a defense by landlords who claim the victim should have expected slippery conditions and acted accordingly.
However, it is possible to prevail in a winter slip and fall case, especially when the accident takes place in the common area of a multi-unit apartment complex. If a sidewalk or walkway is covered with ice, the landlord may be in violation of the duty to keep the area “fit for its intended use” as required under Michigan law.
Although the law allows a landlord or property owner a reasonable amount of time to remove ice and snow, determining liability depends on the individual situation. Some plaintiffs have recovered damages after falling on ice that had formed as recently as two hours earlier.
This is yet another reason to hire a knowledgeable slip and fall attorney if you are injured in an accident on someone else’s property concerning ice.
“We retain meteorological experts to determine how long the ice or snow had been present,” says Mark Bernstein of The Sam Bernstein Law Firm. “Establishing whether the landlord had sufficient time to remove the ice can make the difference between having a case dismissed and winning a sizable settlement.”
While a landlord is responsible for clearing snow and ice from sidewalks and walkways, the same rules do not apply to apartment complex parking lots. This is based on the legal theory that, unlike sidewalks, parking lots are not intended for pedestrians. Therefore, even though walking to or from one’s car requires traversing the parking lot, landlords are not usually liable when a person slips and falls in that area.
Nonetheless, the slip and fall laws are different when it comes to parking lots in shopping centers and office buildings. In those situations, the landlord or property owner is responsible for keeping the parking lots free of potential hazards. However, the “open and obvious” doctrine, especially as it applies to ice and snow, makes it challenging for the victim to prevail in this kind of lawsuit.
“Because of the complexity of the law, Michigan slip and fall cases can be challenging,” Bernstein says. “However, having a knowledgeable attorney on your side will give you the best chance of winning compensation for your injuries.”
Our experienced slip and fall lawyers will help you win compensation for direct expenses such as current and future medical bills, lost wages, including future earnings, as well as intangible damages for pain and suffering, physical and emotional.
For more information or to get your case started, contact The Sam Bernstein Law Firm or 1-800-CALL-SAM for a free, no-obligation remote consultation from the safety of your home.
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