Personal Injury Lawyers
Attorney Van O'Steen

Precedent Set for Tenant Injury Lawsuits

Van O'Steen

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Some years ago, George Becker slipped in the shower of his Encino, California apartment and fell against the glass shower door.  The door, made of untempered glass, shattered, and Becker suffered serious injuries from the broken glass.

The risk of injury would have been much less if the door had been made of tempered glass, which is baked at very high temperatures to produce a safer product.

Becker made a claim against his landlord for his injuries, arguing that a landlord should be legally responsible for injuries caused by latent or hidden hazards on rented property.

The landlord said he did not know the shower door had been made of untempered glass.  He bought the apartment building more than 10 years after it was built.  Since he had no actual knowledge of the potentially dangerous condition, he believed he should not be held responsible for Becker’s injuries.

The disputed claim eventually found its way to the California Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the tenant.

Under the old common law (court-made law) a landlord had virtually no legal obligation to make his or her property safe for tenants.  Because the tenant was not forced to rent the property, the landlord could rent it without regard for hazardous conditions, hidden or otherwise.  This legal doctrine was referred to as “caveat lessee” or “tenant beware.”

Although each state may be different, many personal injury lawyers believe the rule has come full circle and now should be regarded as “caveat lessor” or “landlord beware.” 

In Becker’s case, the California Supreme Court moved a step further in the direction of consumer/tenant protection.  This personal injury case establishes virtual automatic liability for California landlords for injuries caused by latent or hidden defects on their property.  The landlord’s actual knowledge of the defect is not a factor.

Because Arizona court-made law often parallels that of California, it would not be surprising to see a similar rule adopted here. So, landlord beware!