Many people in New Orleans rent property. Whether a house, a duplex, or an apartment, these residents typically rely on property owners to make necessary repairs to the premises. Proper maintenance ensures that residents are safe and their well-being will be protected. Unfortunately, all too often property owners fail to remedy dangerous situations, which can lead to serious injuries. Wynn v. Luck, a recently decided lawsuit by the Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit, illustrates how a negligence claim can help victims of these situations obtain the compensation they deserve.
In that case, two women were injured when a large section of the kitchen ceiling in a rented house collapsed on them. Though the property owner claimed he did not know of the condition and therefore was not negligent for failing to repair it, the court found the record full of evidence to the contrary. First, an inspection of the property days after the incident found that almost all of the ceilings in the house were in dangerous disrepair and would have been noticeable during any visit by the property owner. Second, a maintenance man hired by the property owner provided services to the house on several occasions and, according to the court, he should have noticed the conditions and conveyed that information to the property owner. Finding the property owner constructively knew of the dangerous condition, the court held the property owner liable for negligence and the victims’ injuries.
According to Louisiana law, an owner or lessor of a property is responsible for the condition of his premises when leased to another. Therefore, the owner is liable for any damage or injuries caused by a defect in the property that he knew of or should have known of through the exercise of reasonable care, provided the dangerous condition could have been prevented through the exercise of reasonable care and the owner failed to exercise that care.
One of the more important elements in these types of cases is proving that a defect existed. A defect, as defined by Louisiana law, is a condition that poses an unreasonable risk of injury when a person is exercising ordinary care. Exposed electrical wires, rotting steps and crumbling walls are characteristics that could be considered defects. Thus, if the property owner knows of that condition but fails to remedy it, and the condition leads to an injurious accident, then the victim may be able to obtain compensation through a lawsuit.
Another important aspect, and perhaps the most difficult to prove, is the property owner’s knowledge of, or the fact that he should have known of, the defect. If the property owner was told about the dangerous condition or saw the condition himself, then it is likely he will be found to have had knowledge of the defect. Also, any routine inspections of the premises that should have led to a discovery of the condition, but for whatever reason did not, will likely be found to satisfy the “should have known” prong of the statute. Lastly, as evidenced by the recently decided Second Circuit case, an employee of the property owner who did discover or should have discovered the condition will probably be held to have imputed that knowledge to the property owner, essentially presuming the owner knew of the condition. If this element can be proven along with a defective condition that caused an injury, a plaintiff will likely have a successful claim. Compensation can then be used to cover medical expenses, pain and suffering, and any lost wages. Then, the victim can focus on moving past the incident and obtaining a full recovery.
Older properties are especially susceptible to defects, but they can also be present in new residences, too. When an injury results and the choice is made to file a lawsuit, a long analysis of the facts and legal issues will follow. In these situations it is best to have an experienced attorney who will fight for your rights.
If you have been injured by a dangerous property condition please contact the Berniard Law Firm.