Precarious Louisiana Rental Situation Leads to Tenancy Debate

Rental situations are often particularly hairy, with unfortunate stories emerging of how renters can be put into uncomfortable circumstances due to issues with the property. A landlord in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, lost his appeal of the landlord liability judgment against him. While the landlord was able to collect some of the back-due rent owed to him, he is still liable for damages to a tenant who was injured in his apartment.

Green, a tenant in a building owned by Erwin Enterprises, reported a leak from his bathroom ceiling to his apartment manager on October 1, 2008. While a maintenance employee was dispatched the next day to fix the leak, the employee could not do so without bringing in some outside assistance and left the premises without taking any action to fix the problem. Four days later while Green was sitting on the toilet, the bathroom ceiling caved in on the tenant, causing him to jump up in surprise and slip on the water coming down above. After slipping on the water, Green suffered injuries to his back, legs, and foot, resulting in multiple doctor appointments over the next month to fix the problem.

Landlords are liable for defects in their buildings that result in injury if the building was in the landlord’s custody, that the building containing a effect presented an unreasonable risk of harm to others, that this defect caused the damage and that the landlord knew or should have known of the defective condition. In this case, the building was owned by the landlord company, and the Erwin knew of the defect since it had been reported to him several days earlier. The trial court determined that this leak in the bathroom ceiling was the cause of Green’s injuries and constituted an unreasonable risk of harm. Erwin appealed the judgment, claiming that the court erred in determining that the ceiling falling was the proximate cause of Green’s injuries.

Erwin claimed that the leak in the ceiling should have alerted Green to the risk of the ceiling collapsing. However, the fact that the leak was not fixed quickly was a sign to the court that Erwin and his maintenance employee did not consider the leak to be a major issue that needed to be a top priority. If Erwin did not consider the leak as a precursor to the ceiling collapsing then why should Green have been alerted? If the landlord is able to show the leak to be an obvious risk, Green could be held partly responsible for his own injuries since he ignored the risk. The appellate court disagreed with Erwin’s argument and agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that Erwin had not proved that the risk of the ceiling falling should have been obvious to Green.

While the water on the floor could be considered the actual cause of the accident that injured Green, the court argues that the collapse of a ceiling is such a startling event that it could be viewed as the sole cause of the injuries. As such, Erwin is liable for the injuries to his tenant.

If you would like to pursue a personal injury action against your landlord, please call the Berniard Law firm for assistance.

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