New England property owners generally owe members of the public a legal duty of care to maintain safe premises for people using or visiting their property. This responsibility can result in financial liability for injuries suffered by a person while on the premises as a result of the negligence of the property owner. Landlords have a similar duty to maintain safe and habitable premises for their tenants, however, a recently published opinion by the Massachusetts Supreme Court demonstrates that tenants may face an uphill battle when seeking damages for an injury sustained as a result of premises that are negligently maintained by their landlord.
The plaintiff in the recently decided case was severely injured after slipping and falling while crossing an icy pathway outside the home he rented from the defendant. Claiming that the landlord negligently failed to maintain the surroundings, the plaintiff sued for damages on two theories. First, the plaintiff argued that the landlord negligently caused his injuries by failing to safely remove the snow and ice from the driveway and access to the home. After a jury trial on this issue, it was found that that the plaintiff’s own negligence in failing to avoid the fall outweighed the landlord’s negligence, and that the plaintiff was not entitled to relief.
In addition to the negligence claim, the plaintiff made other claims based on contract law, alleging that the landlord violated the implied warranty of habitability of the premises by failing to safely remove the snow and ice from the premises. In a pretrial ruling, the trial judge found that the plaintiff would be unable to pursue this cause of action against the landlord, and the plaintiff was denied relief before the jury addressed the claim. The plaintiff appealed the pretrial rulings to the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
On appeal, the high court agreed with the trial court’s ruling, holding that the implied warranty of habitability is based on the law of contract, and can be used to reduce or eliminate rent that is owed by a tenant who must live in premises determined to be uninhabitable, but the warranty does not provide for damages resulting from injuries. Furthermore, the high court ruled that the implied warranty of habitability was not violated in this case, as the alleged failure to safely remove snow and ice from the premises did not render the apartment uninhabitable. As a result of the jury’s ruling on negligence at trial and the high court’s agreement with the trial court’s reasoning in rejecting the other theories of liability before trial, the plaintiff will not be compensated for the injuries he suffered in the fall.
Determining a Legal Strategy for Landlord/Tenant and Personal Injury Claims
If you are facing a landlord-tenant issue related to an unsafe condition or injury claim, there are many legal strategies that may be taken to pursue or defend a claim. Having the assistance of an experienced Rhode Island landlord-tenant attorney with knowledge of personal injury and insurance law will provide you with invaluable peace of mind. The qualified real estate lawyers with Bilodeau Capalbo also have experience handling injury and insurance cases, and can help you with claims involving multiple areas of law to pursue a favorable result. Call our offices at 401-300-4055 to talk to a Rhode Island landlord-tenant attorney at Bilodeau Capalbo today.