Property owners and property managers owe a duty to those who enter lawfully to make sure the site is reasonably safe. The level of responsibility depends on a number of factors, including the type of venue and the role of the person entering (i.e., business invitee vs. licensee, public property vs. private property, etc.).
Most people think of public venues when talking about premises liability law in Florida, but it can include private property, such as apartment complexes and even private homes.
Those who rent apartments – and their guests – should know they may have legal recourse in the event they are injured on another person’s property. Strong cases can be made where the injury was foreseeable and preventable and if the property owner/ manager failed to warn.
According to court records in the case, plaintiff was a college student who had moved into an apartment unit in Casper, Wyo. while she attended classes.
The property was owned by a California couple who were investors and did not handle the day-to-day operations. When they purchased the property, they were informed some of the HVAC units needed maintenance and some needed replaced. They set aside $150,000 to do this on a rolling basis.
They then turned over management of the property to a property management company that was responsible for the day-to-day operations.
Two years prior to the alleged incident in question, there were a number of incidents involving excess levels of carbon monoxide, though never in individual units. One occurred in the club house and the on-site maintenance manager had to be hospitalized.
Still, no one on the property management staff was trained in checking the HVAC systems for safety, though one had requested such training.
On the morning in question, that same maintenance manager went to another unit to deliver a rental agreement when he smelled a peculiar odor. (It’s worth noting carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless and tasteless, but he would later tell authorities he smelled something odd.)
He contacted an HVAC firm, and the worker confirmed excessive levels of carbon monoxide. The building was evacuated, and plaintiff was carried out of her unit and had to be hospitalized. It was later noted her apartment unit did not have a working carbon monoxide unit.
Although she survived, she would later report long-term neurological deficiencies as a result of the carbon monoxide poisoning.
She filed a premises liability lawsuit against the property owners and property management company.
At a jury trial, she was awarded a total of $3 million in compensatory damages and $25.5 million in punitive damages, which are awarded to penalize a defendant for egregious and grossly negligent actions. Property owners were ordered to pay $3 million of that total and the property managers the rest.
Defendants challenged the court’s denial of a request for a judgment as a matter of law and also the award of punitive damages. They also argued the amount of punitive damages was excessive.
Appeals court decided there was not enough evidence to show that the property owners should have to pay punitive damages. They also determined the amount of punitive damages against the property managers was excessive, and reduced it to $1.95 million.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Lompe v. Sunridge Partners, April 1, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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