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When can a landlord be held liable for an injury on a property?

When you’re hurt on someone else’s property, how does the law determine whether the property owner should be required to pay your medical bills and compensate you for your pain and suffering? A broad body of law called premises liability covers these cases.

The basic idea behind premises liability is that landlords have a legal duty to keep their premises reasonably safe for residents and visitors. It’s really just common sense. If the owner knows or ought to know about a dangerous condition but doesn’t warn anyone or make repairs within a reasonable period of time, someone could get hurt. If that happens, the property owner can and should be held accountable.

Premises liability law covers a huge variety of situations, the most common of which is the slip-and-fall accident. Injuries from dog bites, sickness from exposure to lead paint, and even preventable criminal activity can result in premises liability. Claims are often brought against the owners of retail stores, public venues and apartment complexes, but also against private homeowners.

Consider this example. Suppose a 10-year-old girl lives in an apartment building. One day, she is seriously burned by scalding water in the shower -- so seriously that she has be hospitalized. Burns are both excruciating, and she could need skin grafts or even be left with a disfiguring burn scar.

If a faulty hot water heater caused the temperature of the water to be dangerously high, there might be a premises liability claim against the owner of the apartment complex. It would depend on whether the landlord knew or should have known about the problem, whether the tenants were warned, and other questions, but the basic question is whether the landlord acted reasonably.

Here in New York, there are a few basic rules before you can file a premises liability claim. First, of course, you can only sue the party that owned the property at the time of your accident. Second, you generally can’t have been trespassing when you were injured. Finally, you must have a fairly good reason to believe the property owner’s negligence was responsible for your injury. If all of those apply to your situation or that of a family member, you should have an attorney evaluate your situation.

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