Is my apartment liable for injuries resulting from a fall?
February 21, 2007 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Slipped and Fell on Apartment property, are they liable?

Yesterday I slipped and fell on a patch of ice on the sidewalk outside my apartment, the complex takes responsibility for placing salt on the sidewalks.

I heard a pop when I fell and after a Doctor visit this morning, I am scheduled for an MRI tomorrow, I likely have a torn meniscus.

Is the Apartment complex liable for any of my treatment? Will my insurance go after them? Should I ask for them to cover anything? Should I have been wearing cleats?

Thanks for any advice.
posted by imjosh to Law & Government (22 answers total)
How much are you willing to have your landlord hate you?
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:09 AM on February 21, 2007

you're going to get a whole flurry of responses that basically say "Call a lawyer."

Call a lawyer.
posted by drstein at 10:16 AM on February 21, 2007

Before you call a lawyer, call your landlord/complex/management company and tell them that you expect them to foot the bill. They'll probably foot over a little bit of money to avoid a legal dispute, but if they refuse, call your insurance. If that doesn't work, then call a lawyer.

I have a friend who had an incident happen in her building. Supposedly a couple of the lights in the stair case had burnt out and not been replaced for a few days. One night a lady fell down the stairs and damaged her ankle in one of the areas without lighting. I know that she got the property management company to pay her hospital bills without any push from a lawyer (note: small company, not landlord).

If you hurt yourself from their neglect, you're probably entitled to some money.
posted by JacksonEsquire at 10:23 AM on February 21, 2007

Take it to a PI attorney.

I would be hesitant to accept any initial settlement the complex offers you at this stage because:
a. You have time to make a decision.
b. The damage to your meniscus may be more serious than you think.

A good PI attorney can take the case, evaluate what you will require to live life as before, double it, and then sue. It's worth a shot if your medical bills are going to be high.
posted by reenum at 10:34 AM on February 21, 2007

Did they in fact salt the walkway?
posted by Hildago at 10:36 AM on February 21, 2007

Do you really feel like it is their fault? Are you in some situation where you don't have health insurance or can't afford to get treatment? I would be less concerned about what you may be able to get and what the "right" thing to do is.

Personally, I think there is a big difference between stepping on a "patch" of ice and getting hit by a roof gutter that was shoddily installed. If the whole sidewalk was not de-iced and you had no reasonable route out of your house I think would be different too. However, the idea that a landlord has to de-ice a sidewalk perfectly and the tenants don't need to look where they are going doesn't work for me.
posted by ill3 at 10:47 AM on February 21, 2007


I missed the part where you said you're going in for an MRI and likely have a torn meniscus. Your injuries are (potentially) more serious than I assumed. You could also have issues down the road that aren't apparent now.

So, either go through insurance or a lawyer.
posted by JacksonEsquire at 10:49 AM on February 21, 2007

Response by poster: As far as I can tell the area did not look salted, though they do salt.

The landlord is a company with many properties in several states, not just an individual.

I have insurance, however my deductible is $2,500 more than I can afford to spend at this point, It was the ne path out of the apartment.

I'm not looking to get rich on this, I am currently filling out an incident/accident report with them. This is simply the first time I have had to do anything like this and wanted to garner some advice. I'll wait for the MRI and go from there. Thanks for all the info.
posted by imjosh at 11:14 AM on February 21, 2007

I think a reasonable thing to ask for would be your deductible. That is fair and likely to be accepted by them just to avoid having to involve any lawyers.

Also, to get on my soapbox for a second, I don't think whether or not it's an individual landlord vs. a huge corporation should have any bearing on whether or not to pursue someone legally. Frivolous litigation ends up costing everyone money whether it's shareholders, taxes, your rent going up next year, etc...
posted by ill3 at 11:21 AM on February 21, 2007

If there was ice and they had not salted it they are likely liable. ikkyu2 makes a good point. You have to live with these folks. Hopefully you can get them to cover your deductible etc. without a law suit. After the MRI I would talk to one or more PI lawyers anyway.
posted by caddis at 11:24 AM on February 21, 2007

If you have health insurance, they'll probably seek compensation from your landlord. If you have significant losses, like more time lost from work than you have sick time to cover, you might be able to get damages.

If you have no insurance, call a lawyer, but try hard not to call one of the ones with the especially jerk-y ads. They seem to be making the world much less civil.
posted by theora55 at 11:38 AM on February 21, 2007

I disagree that you have to live with these people. I'd make breaking my lease a condition of settlement and move. They are obviously slack on outside maintence, who knows what else isn't being tended to in a timly manner.
posted by Mitheral at 11:51 AM on February 21, 2007

If your landlord is a large corporation, they probably carry some liability insurance for just this sort of thing. It might be worth finding out before you go any further.

If they do, and if all you're interested in is covering that large deductible (ouch! I'm sorry to hear it, that sucks) your landlord's insurance company might prefer to just deal with it, rather than having you litigate for a major liability claim with damages and so forth. So if you'd prefer that too, just start by making some calm inquiries. Don't sign anything and don't consent to having your phone call recorded.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:52 AM on February 21, 2007

From what you have told us, it doesn't sound like a clear case of landlord liability. You could see that the sidewalk was icy, which means you "assumed the risk" when you started walking on it, and assumption of risk weighs against the landlord being liable. The fact that the landlord typically salts the sidewalk doesn't mean you should have assumed they had already salted that one. Maybe they salted it and you just happened to step on a patch that they missed. And there are often differing levels of liability depending on whether the hazard was an obvious one or not.

Just some thoughts. These are all things to discuss with your attorney.
posted by jayder at 12:10 PM on February 21, 2007

It's a complicated question that can't be resolved by anyone posting to this thread -- lawyer or not -- without more facts. Off the top of my head, relevant issues would include (1) how long it had been since the last snow, (2) the apartment's usual practice for snow and ice removal, (3) whether the apartment deviated from that usual practice (and why), (4) whether the snow and ice was caused by some other factor, (5) whether this was an isolated patch in an otherwise well-tended surface, (6) whether the apartment owner had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition, and (7) how open and obvious the ice was (since we all have the responsibility to "watch where we're walking" in winter).
posted by pardonyou? at 12:31 PM on February 21, 2007

I see you're in Ohio. You might find this instructive:
An owner or occupier generally owes a business invitee no duty to remove natural accumulations of snow or ice. Chatelain v. Portage View Condominiums, 151 Ohio App.3d 98, 2002-Ohio-6764, ¶8. However, such a duty can arise if the owner or occupier has superior knowledge of a hazardous condition greater than that which a business invitee would anticipate by reason of his or her knowledge of conditions prevailing generally in the area. Id.; see, also, Debie v. Cochran Pharmacy-Berwick, Inc. (1967), 11 Ohio St.2d 38, paragraph one of the syllabus. The duty may also arise out of contract. Chatelain, supra, ¶8. With respect to an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice, a property owner may be liable if an intervening act of the owner perpetuates or aggravates a preexisting, hazardous presence of ice and snow. Klein v. Ryan’s Family Steak House, 9th Dist. No. 200683, 2002-Ohio-2323, ¶10, citing Porter v. Miller (1983), 13 Ohio App.3d 93, 95.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:35 PM on February 21, 2007

Not sure if pardonyou? link sheds much light on this situation; the landlord-tenant relationship is different than the owner-business invitee. Generally, a lesser duty is owed to business invitees, but that matters by jurisdiction.

Contrary to what others in this thread may think, holding landlords to the duty of care they owe their tennants is not a frivolous lawsuit. The law does not protect us when we choose not to enforce them.

That the OP may himself/herself have been negligent as well by walking on visible ice does not eliminate the landlord's negligence, though it may mitigate the damages available (unless Ohio is a state with follows the doctrine of contributory negligence; not sure, but contributory negligence is, I believe, the minority viewpoint among US states).

Generally, a landlord does have a duty to clear the sidewalk. But, IMO, there isn't enough information in this thread to determine whether or not that duty was violated (or, maybe, even contracted around entirely -- the lease may cover this).

As others have said, the best course of action is to take the path of least resistance: see if your landlord will take care of your insurance deductible. If the landlord will not, *consider* litigation (i.e. determine, either with the assistance of a lawyer or on your own what duty was owed to you by your landlord and whether or not you feel such a duty was breached). I wouldn't worry about your relationiship with this landlord -- any landlord who'd tell you to suck it up is one that doesn't deserve to have you as a tennant. There are plenty of apartments out there...

If your claim is only your deductible, you may be able to conduct this ligitation on your own through small claims court. But memories get fuzzy, so you may wish to write down/document what you now know. Even if you can't use it as evidence it'll help keep your recollections of events accurate.
posted by herc at 1:30 PM on February 21, 2007

From the Ohio State Bar Association:
Q.: If, by agreement with tenants, the owner of a strip mall agrees to keep sidewalks and passageways open and clear of ice and snow, would that agreement mean the owner/landlord could be held responsible for a slip-and-fall of a tenant or visitor?
A.: Possibly. An individual or an entity (such as a business) can be held responsible for injuries which occur when that individual or entity has assumed a duty by agreement to keep sidewalks, parking lots and entrances open. When the individual or business owner/landlord takes on that duty, he or she must take "reasonable measures" to ensure that the job is performed. However, the law does not expect the area to be kept totally free and clear. Rather, the law expects the individual or entity assuming the duty to make reasonable efforts to keep the area clear. No amount of maintenance can totally insure against injury and damage.
These issues are quite fact dependent. That is why you want a lawyer versant in the local law to help you sort this stuff out.
posted by caddis at 2:08 PM on February 21, 2007

Ok, stick with me cause this gets complicated.

What time of day did this occur, and how long was the ice there? Those are the critical questions.

If ice formed overnight and you slipped first thing in the morning on your way to work, that's an "Act Of God" and not the apartment complex's fault. After all, the guy who would have been in charge of the salt was on his way to work too. Or do you honestly think maintenance guys have nothing better to do on a cold morning than get up at 4 AM to put out salt just in case somebody has to be at work by 5?

Likewise, if you got home after dark and ice formed in a shady area since the sun set, maintenance may not have been able to get there yet. "Maintenance" is at best 2 or three guys and they can't be everywhere all the time.

It's an extension of that "reasonable measures" thing caddis mentioned. Can you prove that management knew there was ice *right there* and didn't do anything about it for *days*? Can you furthermore prove that they had resources and manpower to fix the problem? Can you prove their maintenance staff was *not* busy with other issues such as frozen pipes breaking? If not, I think your case is weak.
posted by ilsa at 2:59 PM on February 21, 2007

Please don't call a lawyer. Life is full of risk. Every time something goes wrong, you don't have to sue someone. That is precisely WHY insurance costs so much for you, for your doctor, for the apartment owner - because everyone is afraid of getting sued. Yes, it sucks that it happened, but perhaps you should have been more careful, and yes, the ice should have been cleared. but it wasn't. Move on.
posted by nomad73 at 3:00 PM on February 21, 2007

In the winter, things get icy (including sidewalks). You can't expect all sidewalks to be entirely clear of ice, so you should be careful, look where you are walking, and adjust your stride to deal with ice. Can you honestly claim that the fall was caused by your landlord and not your lack of attention to where you were walking in winter conditions? If you can't, then you have no (moral) business suing.
posted by ssg at 3:19 PM on February 21, 2007

Not sure if pardonyou? link sheds much light on this situation; the landlord-tenant relationship is different than the owner-business invitee. Generally, a lesser duty is owed to business invitees, but that matters by jurisdiction.

Eh? In the jurisdictions I am aware of (I've looked at this in about 10 states over the years) the highest duty owed is to business invitees; those that are invited onto the property to engage in business for the financial benefit of the owner and occupier. Moreover, most jurisdictions treat landlord/tenant relationship as "invitee"--the same distinction as a "business" invitee.

I offered this explanation last time a similar question was asked, and it is fairly germane here.

Ice on the ground cases are tricky. I don't always recommend talking to a lawyer for minor accidents, but, if I tore my meniscus and was still unaware of the full extent of the injury, then I would talk to a lawyer myself. I would just make sure--positively, absolutely sure--that I didn't contact an attorney who advertises on a phone book, bus stop or sends flowers or anything like that. Moreover, i would not listen to a PI attorney who sends you to a chiropractor or "injury clinic." The only value in an attorney is to have a reputable one and see reputable doctors.
posted by dios at 7:40 AM on February 22, 2007

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