Are You Liable for Injuries Sustained on Your Property?

Your commercial tenant calls you from the hospital, sounding rather upset. He has been injured on your property, and feels that you are responsible for his medical bills. He alleges that you knew some aspect of the property posed a threat, and that you neglected to warn him of the danger. The tenant asks you to pay his hospital bills and threatens to sue if you refuse.

If you find yourself in this situation as the commercial property owner, you may wonder if you are responsible for any injuries sustained on your property. Before you reach back out to your tenant, you should immediately check with our real estate attorneys. According to California law, you may be liable for the injuries sustained to your tenant if the following is established:

1. Your tenant can prove that you owed the tenant a duty of care
2. That you breached that duty of care
3. That the breach caused the tenant’s injuries
4. That the tenant suffered damages as a result of your breach of duty of care

It’s usually not difficult to prove injuries or the expenses associated with them, but duty of care is another matter. If you are aware of a dangerous situation on your property, then you are obligated to fix the problem or at least warn your tenants of the risk. But in order for your tenant to win the case, the situation must be subject to duty of care laws in the first place. The California Supreme Court uses the following tests to establish whether a particular situation is subject to duty of care:

1. The harm is foreseeable
2. The party suffered an injury
3. The party’s injury is connected to the property owner’s conduct/lack of conduct
4. The owner’s conduct
5. The availability, cost, and prevalence of insurance to protect against the risk

Many cases get hung up on the first point because you as the Landlord are required to maintain your property in a safe manner. If you fail to do so or warn tenants of the potential danger, you could be liable for any resulting injuries. On the other hand, if the dangerous situation occurred spontaneously, and you had no knowledge that there was a problem on the property, then duty of care might not apply.

It’s more complicated than that, of course, as most legal matters tend to be. The terms of the lease can significantly shift liability, so those must be considered. Also, as with all liability issues, adequate and good liability insurance should be your first line of defense against this sort of claim. So you should check regularly with your insurance broker to ensure that your coverage is adequate. Since liability lawsuits can become tricky situations very quickly, we recommend that you immediately consult with our real estate attorneys, rather than trying to negotiate the issue on your own.

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