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Who Is Liable for Accidents in Apartment Buildings?

| Category: Personal Injury | August 31, 2020

When you suffer an injury on someone else’s property, such as slipping and falling in a puddle of water in a store, it’s normally fairly easy to assign liability. In most cases, the property owner — i.e., the corporation that owns the store — will be liable for your injuries. But what about injuries that occur in settings where multiple parties could potentially be liable, such as accidents in apartment buildings? Would the landlord be liable or would liability fall on the lessee of the premises where the accident occurred? Below we will explain how courts assign liability for accidents in these cases.

General Rules of Premises Liability

Liability for accidents that occur on property that does not belong to the plaintiff is known as “premises liability.” Under Maryland law, all property owners and occupiers owe visitors upon their premises a duty to protect the visitors from injuries due to unreasonably dangerous conditions. The law splits all property entrants into three broad categories:

  • Invitees: Individuals invited onto the property for a business purpose
  • Licensees: Individuals who are present on the property for their own benefit (such as social guests)
  • Trespassers: Individuals who are on the property without the owner or occupier’s knowledge or permission

Owners and occupiers owe invitees the duty to inspect the premises and make them safe, while they owe licensees the duty to warn of any dangers of which they are aware, but are not required to inspect and make safe. Owners and occupiers owe trespassers no duty other than to refrain from harming them intentionally.

With this in mind, we’ll explain when landlords are liable for injuries and when tenants are liable.

Premises Under the Landlord’s Control

Landlords generally are liable for accidents that occur on premises that are under their control, including common areas such as lobbies, rooftops, hallways, elevators, and amenity spaces. For example, assume that you are visiting a friend’s building when, on the way up to her unit, the elevator stops and falls several floors, and you suffer an injury. Because the elevator is a premises that is under the landlord’s control rather than the tenant’s, the landlord would be liable for your injury.

Premises Under the Tenant’s Control

Tenants are liable for accidents that occur on premises that are under their control, such as their apartment units and any other premises over which they exercise exclusive control. To use another example: Let’s say that you are inside your friend’s apartment unit and you slip and fall on a puddle of water that your friend had spilled several hours earlier. Because your accident occurred in your friend’s unit — over which she had exclusive control — your friend would be liable, as she had a duty to warn you of the existence of the puddle.

Contact a Waldorf Personal Injury Lawyer

This post is merely a brief overview of the rules that govern premises liability, which can become extraordinarily complex when there are multiple potentially responsible parties involved. For more information about accidents and injuries that occurred in an apartment building, please contact a Waldorf personal injury lawyer at the Law Office of Thomas E. Pyles by using our online form or calling us at 301-705-5006.  For your convenience, we have offices in Laurel and Leonardtown.