Landlord Tenant Premises Liability Cases: New Opinion in Louisiana

Slip and fall and other premises liability cases are often lucrative cases. Nationally, the average premises liability verdict is $643,099. That average is a good verdict, relatively speaking, in a person injury case, far higher than, for example, a car crash.

Of course, these are verdicts where the plaintiff won their lawsuit. The challenge for a plaintiffs’ attorney is often getting a case to a jury in the first place and getting a finding of liability. One of the toughest premises liability cases is premises liability claims by tenants against landlords. Typically the problem is that while the condition of the property is defective, the tenant knew about the defect and assumed the risk – and thus the responsibility – for the injuries.

The 5th Circuit dealt with the opposite problem last week in a Louisiana case: whether the tenant was able to prove there was a defect in the first place. Plaintiff fell down stairs in her home that she had been renting for 7 years – stairs she had climbed thousands of times. She filed a premises liability lawsuit against the owner, saying the stairs were defective, arguing that the stairs were unreasonable dangerous because they violated a number of building codes.

The court agreed that building codes are often guidelines for negligence. But, the court found they cannot stand alone in a vacuum without evidence that the condition was unreasonably dangerous to the plaintiff. Accordingly, the court denied summary judgment.

Of course, this makes sense. The building code concerns may have no nexus to the injury itself. Perhaps the purpose of the codes for the stairs were not to protect the plaintiff on the stairs but to maintain the structural integrity of the building itself. Similarly, getting hit by a driver who does not have a license does not mean that car accident was caused by that drivers negligence.

You can find the court’s opinion in Dixon v. Iannuzzi here.

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