April 23, 2020| Lester Yat
One of the worst nightmares for condominium and apartment managers revolves around the health and well-being of a resident being compromised. When it comes to preventing liability from falling on an owner’s back during a resident’s unfortunate slip and fall on rental property, a manager must realize that doing something as menial as putting a sign next to a slippery walkway is not sufficient enough.
One insurance firm estimates that the overall cost of slip-and-fall injuries in the United States is about a $60 billon total annually. Of course, the easiest way not get potentially sued by a resident is to be proactive. Working to maintain property is an integral part of that process because if everything is taken care of as it should be, it’s hard for someone to fall in the first place. One way managers can be more on the ball is to be attentive.
If a parking lot has many cracks or potholes, it would probably be in the best intention to fix the cement so that someone doesn’t break an ankle when walking to their residence. Many falls tend to occur on sidewalks, too, and are caused by cracks or winter conditions — notably snow and ice. A manager should always be aware of possible inclement weather, especially in states that feel the wrath of a winter season. Being prepared is being one step ahead in that regard.
To add on to that point, maintaining sidewalks, parking lots and porches outside of buildings is not just a winter activity; it should be done on a year-round basis. If for some reason a manager cannot take care of a potential problem before it occurs, at least alert residents of treacherous conditions. A sign warning residents of uneven pavement or that a sidewalk tends to become icy is better than nothing.
There should be a list for managers to adhere to consistently, including: wet or greasy floors; torn carpeting that may cause tripping; wet or greasy doormats; dangerous exposed wiring; and uneven floors.
Managers should always document everything to show they have done their due diligence, just in case a resident does try to sue on the basis that a manager or property did not properly take care of a certain situation. Safety inspections, maintenance work and a history of slip and falls are included in those documents. Employees should also be made aware of a property’s practices, just in case the manager is unavailable in an emergency scenario.
But let’s say a slip and fall occurs: who is responsible? A property owner may very well be held responsible if he or she knew about an issue and did not proactively try to fix the problem. Or, maybe the manager even somehow contributed to a scenario that made matters worse — such as tearing up concrete and not clearing away remnants of the construction.
Liability is often a common sense debate, and in a court of law simple questions may arise. Those include how long dangerous conditions existed and what time-frame there was for a manager to properly handle the situation, were attempts to solve the issue deliberate, and did the victim him or herself do everything possible to avoid the situation.
If a fall occurs, a manager should offer assistance immediately, call emergency personnel if applicable and document the situation. Routine inspections should be commonplace to prevent even one fall from happening.
Also, managers should look into their insurance options because they may not be protected from disastrous claims at all. Just one accident could put managers in the position where their insurance coverage goes over its threshold. An umbrella or excess liability may be necessary to provide ample insurance coverage and protect not only the manager, but also the business.