A West Virginia woman who tripped and injured herself while visiting her daughter in Huntington has sued the company that owns the property, claiming that it failed to properly maintain the premise.
A mother visited her daughter’s apartment last May 2011. After returning from an errand, she tripped and fell on what she alleges was uneven, raised payment. The mother claims that in addition to this hazard, the surrounding area was poorly lit, making her unable to identify the problem until it was too late. The mother claims to have suffered serious bodily injury and emotional distress, and is suing for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and various economic and noneconomic damages. After the incident occurred, a representative of the property was informed and corrected the problem by painting the area with brightly colored paint, as well as installing additional lighting.
The mother claims that by so quickly altering the area, the property owner removed evidence that there was a hazard in the first place, hindering the mother’s ability to provide such evidence in a lawsuit. She further argues that the property owner was perfectly aware of the mother’s potential to sue at the time the hazard problem was remedied.
There are two areas of law at issue here, which are related to an extent: basic premise liability and landlord-tenant responsibilities. Under basic property law landlord-tenant responsibilities, a landlord has a duty to his or her tenants to maintain common and outdoor areas, which means keeping them clean of trash and ensuring that all lights are functioning. It is not clear whether the area where the accident occurred allegedly lacked working lights, or whether it simply did not have any lighting. Regardless, the landlord owed a duty to the mother’s daughter, a tenant, to maintain these outdoor areas.
Then there is the basic premise liability duty of a property owner to a licensee. The mother’s suit refers to her as an “invitee,” but unless she was doing business on the property or the property had been opened to the general public, that was likely incorrect. A licensee is any invited guest on the property who is not there to do business. The property owner’s duty to a licensee is still a strict one, if not as strict as his or her duty to an invitee. He or she is required to warn about or make safe known hazards on the property, whereas with an invitee, the property owner must not only warn about or correct known hazards, but also do a reasonable inspection to find any previously unknown hazards.
If the property owner in this case had already been made aware of the tripping hazard, the company breached a duty to the mother and other licensees by failing to warn them or correct the problem immediately. Even if the property owner could prove that it was unaware, the mother might be able to make the case that it breached its duty to the tenants by failing to keep outside areas safe, which pointed to unreasonable behavior in general.
It may be that the property owner meant nothing nefarious by fixing the problem after the mother reported it — the property representative may have panicked and thought that the hazard needed to be corrected right away so that others would not suffer a similar fate. Regardless, with the help of a good West Virginia premise liability attorney, the mother (or anyone in a similar position) could present evidence of the changes made, and when, to demonstrate what the area was like prior to the changes.