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Case Study: Getting Sued for Negligence

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Rental property investing is truly a risk / reward proposition.  Although the rewards are great, there is some manageable risk as well. 

For example, I recently read a news story about a landlord that was ordered to pay $350K for a slip and fall injury that occurred at his rental property.  Specifically, a woman slipped on some construction debris in the stairwell of a NYC apartment building, falling awkwardly and breaking her ankle.  Although this is an unfortunate situation, the story does provide some good insight that can be used to help other landlords avoid similar predicaments. 

In order for a tenant to prove negligence for a slip and fall injury, two things must be proven: (1) that the landlord contributed to the fall and (2) that the fall caused the injury.  Unfortunately for the landlord, the tenant’s attorney was able to adequately prove both of these things thanks to the testimony of other tenants, which highlighted the fact that several tenants complained about the conditions but the landlord did nothing.  As further proof, a video of the condition of the stairwell was taken immediately after the incident.

Although the landlord’s insurance company paid the bill, his rates will almost certainly increase.  Therefore, it would have been better if the situation could have been avoided in the first place.  Stairwell injuries are a common reason for negligence claims, so landlords need to pay special attention to these areas. 

For example, it is important to provide some kind of oversight for contractors performing repairs in these areas, and routine ad-hoc inspections are a must to proactively identify hazards such as loose handrails or steps.  Additionally, it is critical to respond to tenant complaints quickly, before things spiral out of control. In fact, if the landlord in this case had simply responded to his tenants’ concerns, the unfortunate slip and fall incident would never have occurred.  As the old adage says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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