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Apartment Building Accidents: Who Is Liable?

With a BA in communications and paralegal experience, Irma C. Dengler decided to combine her skills. In the past, when she was involved in proceedings of her own, she witnessed firsthand the weight of legal language. A convoluted terminology can easily disarm the average American. Therefore, she set off to empower her readers by making the law more accessible to them. Although she has covered all areas of civil and criminal law, insurance-related issues, and her area of specialty are personal injury cases.

Apartment Building Accidents: Who Is Liable?

In most cases, the tenant is liable for any accidents in the rental home, but the landlord is responsible for accidents in shared areas of an apartment building or complex. The circumstances of an accident, on the other hand, may change liability in many ways.

Liability Is Not Absolute

What if the victim of a fall trips in the front of the door of an apartment and falls inside the apartment against a glass-topped coffee table? Was there a foreseeable accident caused by the conditions outside the apartment, or was there dangerous proximity of the coffee table to the entrance? The answers to these questions might be determined in court.

Premises liability also affects what happens in a store inside a building. Usually, in a busy store, the business owner or staff cannot always prevent slip and falls on business premises. For instance, if a customer drops a piece of lettuce on which the accident victim immediately slips, liability becomes a gray area. But if the person at a store’s door trips over a patch of black ice, is it the owner’s or tenant’s responsibility?

That might depend on how long the ice was present and whether passing by your apartment is necessary to get to other units. Could you have foreseen such an accident? Should the management regularly check on ice in common walkways?

Background Information on Premises Liability

The term “premises liability” refers to who is held legally responsible for somebody’s injuries sustained while visiting a particular property. Liability is not limited to businesses or commercial operations. One study found that condominium and apartment complexes rank near the top of entities sued for accidents. What steps should homeowners, renters, and business owners take to prevent accidents on their premises?

The following measure could reduce the risks of accidents on most types of premises:


  • Stay aware of electrical hazards and remove them as quickly as possible.
  • Store items safely with the heaviest items on the bottom and progressively lighter items on top.
  • Act quickly to protect your home or business from water damage by repairing system leaks and removing any standing water from the premises.
  • Identify potential fire hazards and remove them.
  • Repair damage to flooring.
  • Provide clear, unobstructed passageways between aisles in your store or rooms in your home.
  • Don’t allow toys or boxes of products to prevent getting around the premises.
  • No matter who is responsible for clearing ice and snow from walkways, make sure that your premises are kept clear or that common walkways are cleared.

The Responsibility of Standard of Care

Anyone who is invited into your home deserves the benefit of a standard of care by the homeowner or tenant, which means there shouldn’t be piles of tottering books and newspapers, wet floors, and tripping hazards. Standard care can be expected, and violations are legitimate causes for holding the owner or manager liable.

That doesn’t exempt visitors from any responsibility for their actions. Obvious safety hazards or less obvious safety hazards that are reinforced with warnings like a dangerous dog usually result in no liability for the property owner or tenant if someone is injured while ignoring the warnings.

Type of Premises Visitors

The degree to which a premises owner is responsible for an accident depends on the type of visitor. Of course, you owe a greater degree of care when entertaining some of your best friends or treasured family members who are visiting upon being invited than you would feel for someone popping by uninvited.

The law does come with exceptions to premises liability for certain uninvited guests who are labeled as “trespassers.” These might include door-to-door salespeople, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or panhandlers asking for money to repair a broken vehicle.

Facing the Challenges of an Apartment Building Accident Lawsuit

When someone is injured on your property, the first step is to file a personal injury claim with the insurance company or hire an attorney to wade through the accident circumstances. An experienced attorney can figure if the building owner or the tenant bears the full responsibility and whether both share some type of fault.

In the latter case, shared fault rules vary greatly across states, with some states even refusing to give compensation to the victim if they were at fault for the incident, even by a tiny bit. So, it is best to talk to an experienced premises liability lawyer first.