Property owners have an inherent duty to protect all persons lawfully on the property from unreasonable risk of harm. When it comes to children, that standard is somewhat heightened in that youths are not presumed to have the knowledge or maturity to protect themselves from obvious harm or danger.
The recent case of Ruiz v. Victory Props., LLC details a case where reportedly dangerous conditions in the back yard of an apartment complex indirectly led to serious head injuries sustained by a 7-year-old girl who lived there.
Trial court granted summary judgment to defendant, finding the girl’s injuries were not a foreseeable risk of the dangerous conditions that existed. The court noted that to decide otherwise might have the unintended consequence of making land owners reticent to rent property to families with children. The appellate court, though, later backed by the Connecticut Supreme Court, reversed, finding ample evidence the land owner had a basic duty to keep the site clear of hazards that might be dangerous to children, and further that a reasonable argument could be made that this breach of duty resulted in the girl’s injuries.
The case involves a large concrete slab, one of several that littered the back yard of the run-down multi-unit housing complex. There were numerous families with children, and they had complained to the landlord about the overall condition of the back yard.
Pictures presented to the court showed the yard contained:
- A rusting, run-down swing set;
- Chunks of concrete throughout the yard, broken off from a nearby sidewalk and retaining wall;
- An abandoned, decaying motor vehicle;
- Unused and abandoned appliances;
- Discarded furnishings;
- Piles of rocks and construction material.
The children who resided there routinely played amid this rubble, and the landlord was aware of this, both because his tenants had told him so and expressed concern and also because he visited the site once monthly to collect rent.
It’s undisputed defendant made no effort to clear the debris.
One day, a 10-year-old boy picked up one of the chunks of concrete from the yard, carried it up to his third-floor apartment and dropped it out of a window – directly onto the head of a 7-year-old neighbor girl. The boy had reportedly wanted to see if he could break the piece of concrete. The girl sustained serious and permanent head injuries.
Parents of the girl later filed an injury lawsuit against the landowner, alleging defendant was negligent in failing to remove loose concrete and other dangerous debris form the back yard and this negligence was a substantial factor in the girl’s injuries. Defense argued there was no duty of care because he could not have foreseen that leaving debris in the backyard might result in another child hauling a piece of that debris up to a window and pitching it out onto another child.
Reversal by the appellate court, later affirmed by the Connecticut Supreme Court, was predicated on the fact the landlord had a duty of care to maintain common areas of the property in reasonably safe condition – particularly when he/she is aware children regularly play in those areas.
The issue wasn’t so much whether landlord could have foreseen a child carrying up a piece of concrete to his apartment and throwing it out the window, but rather whether a child might have been injured given the poor condition of the property. It came down to whether the incident would have happened but for defendant’s conduct, and appellate court found evidence to suggest plaintiffs had a strong argument to make this case.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Ruiz v. Victory Props., LLC , Jan. 20, 2015, Connecticut Supreme Court
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