Tenant Falls on Sidewalk: Is The Landlord At Fault?
October 1, 2010
Krokowski rented an apartment from Henderson National Corp. in Oklahoma. On a cold winter night, Krokowski walked from the parking lot to his apartment and slipped on a patch of ice, hurting his knee.
Krokowski sued. He said the landlord had installed a drain pipe that had the effect of making ice accumulate and build up where it would not have naturally. Krokowski claimed that it was not water draining through the pipe that increased accumulations, but instead where the landlord had placed the pipe, having the effect of keeping more water in the area where he fell; thus, the pool of ice.
The landlord said “nonsense!” and asked the court for a judgment without trial. It said that there was no disagreement about the facts of the case, Krokowski did indeed slip and fall on the ice. The point was that state law did not make landlords liable for injuries caused by natural accumulations of snow and ice. Furthermore, the pipe wasn’t part of the drainage system, and it couldn’t have made more ice accumulate. The court granted the landlord’s request for the summary judgment.
Krokowski appealed and the appeals court affirmed. Krokowski appealed again to the state Supreme Court, this time with more luck. It reversed the lower court decision.
The state Supreme Court said that the landlord was not entitled to a judgment without trial. The parties disagreed as to the circumstances of the accumulation of ice. The tenant said the landlord caused it, the landlord said it was that way without any help from the landlord.
The case was going to have to be tried and a decision reached as to whether or not the ice was the result of the pipe. Krokowski v. Henderson National Corp., 917 P.2d 8 (Oklahoma) 1996.
Your best approach to avoiding situations such as this is to look for any possible problems in common areas that could result in injury to a tenant or guest. If someone falls, it will be up to you to show that it wasn’t your fault, that the hazard was there without your exacerbating it in any way. A lawsuit is never successful, even if the judgment is in your favor, since you still have the costs, hassle and stress. A little planning and foresight will go a long way toward avoiding problems such as the above.
If you know of a hazard, post warnings or notices, or simply block access, so people will be warned or cannot put themselves in a position to be injured.
Start looking now, winter is the time of year most prone to accidents, what with the longer hours of dark and the cold and/ or wet conditions.