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Landlord could be liable for tenant’s injury caused by backyard hole

If an individual suffers personal injuries on a property due to the negligence of the owner of that property, the injured person should be compensated. However, what if the person injured is a tenant, and the landlord-owner argues that the tenant was given “control” of the premises under the lease?

The Superior Court of Connecticut discussed this scenario in the case of Odom v. Champagne.

A backyard hole

The victim was a tenant, renting a home from a landlord in Norwich, Connecticut. One day, the victim was in the backyard of the rental home when she inadvertently stepped into a hole and sustained injuries. The victim brought a lawsuit, arguing that her injuries were caused by her landlord’s negligence, including the landlord’s failure to maintain the premises in a proper state of repair.

The landlord asked the court for a “summary judgment”-a decision that might end the case before the victim even had her full day in court. The landlord argued that she was not liable for the injuries because the victim had control of the entire premises, including the yard, along with the duty to maintain the yard.

Who had control of the premises?

The Superior Court of Connecticut noted that, under the law, a landlord owes a duty of reasonable care with regard to the portions of property over which the landlord retains control. However, that duty does not apply to parts of the property in the exclusive control of the tenant. Generally, a court determines if a landlord retained control by considering the intentions of the parties, in light of all the circumstances of the specific case.

Here, the question of whether the victim had exclusive control over the area of the yard where she was injured was a question of fact because the language of the lease was not clear. The lease stated that the tenant would maintain the “leased premises” and “other parts” of the property used, in a neat and clean manner, but what constituted the leased premises was not defined by the contract.

In addition, the reference to “other parts” of the property used by the tenant resulted in further ambiguity, since that phrase could refer to a different area than the leased premises. It was possible that where the victim fell was not even part of the premises “used by” her and not under her control. In fact, the victim had stated that prior to the fall, she had never used that area of the backyard.

Where a contract has ambiguous language, the intent of the parties should be a question of fact-determined by a “factfinder,” whether a jury or a judge-as part of a full proceeding. Thus, the landlord’s motion for summary judgment in this premises liability case was denied and the victim would have her full day in court.

Providing a safe environment

Often, personal injuries occur because of the conditions of a property. Whether that property is a hotel, a grocery store, an apartment or something else, the person in control of that property must provide a safe environment for those legally on the premises. If you are injured due to the negligence of another, seek advice from an experienced personal injury attorney committed to representing the victims of such accidents.

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