Tenant Fell in The Parking Lot... Can I Be Sued?

19 Replies

Hey there, BPers. First time poster. I've got a townhouse with a tenant in it. 

While walking through the parking lot of the townhouse complex, he slipped on ice, fell and busted his skull open tot he tune of $125k in medical bills. I didn't hear about the incident until a couple weeks after it happened when I went by to pick up rent. He mentioned he was suing the HOA of the townhouse complex since maintaining the landscaping, clearing ice, snow and public spaces like the parking lot are the responsibility of the HOA. 10 months later, I get a letter from a Personal Injury attorney asking me to provide all of my liability and umbrella insurance policy and to cease all contact with my tenant...

Any lawyers out there who can help me understand how I could be held liable for a tenant falling on the parking lot, which is a public space of the townhouse complex (which is not my property)? Many thanks and y'all have a great night!

Not a lawyer but have been sued for slip and fall when we use to own a restaurant. People can sue anyone for anything anytime. Just give the lawyer the insurance info. The insurance company will deal with it. You'll only have to be involved if they actually go to court instead of settling and then the insurance company will defend you.

I wouldn’t worry much but it’s always best to be pro active.
If I was in your shoes I would contact my lawyer first before providing any info to an Accident Lawyer.
I agree with you, you shouldn’t be liable but Accident lawyers tend to sue everyone possible..

@Jonathan Dickerson

@Jill F. sims it up pretty well. I would add you will probably pay the deductible. Your insurance may also sue the HOA. The tenants rentor policy will also probably be involved. If it is all with one insurance company it will go away quickly but either way, most likely, your deductible is your risk. Always require tenants to carry renters insurance.

I would have a discussion with YOUR attorney and follow their guidance. They have YOUR best interest in mind and will guide you. They also know YOUR rights.

I would not stress over it. The homeowners insurance policy probably has better coverage than you may think. Good Luck

Unless a judge signed that letter. Throw it in the trash and turn in a claim to your liability carrier. Failure to turn it in could exclude further coverage. But have their atty talk to your (insurance company’s) atty.

@Jonathan Dickerson only thing you need to do is submit it to your insurance carrier and move on as business as usual.

One of the main reasons you have insurance is for them to defend you against liability claims.  I do not recommend opening up conversations with your attorney unless there ends up being part of this claim that does not fall under the coverage of your policy.   The claim rep can make that clarification when you talk with them.

Best of luck,

Many thanks for the advice. I'll definitely get my insurance carrier in the loop - I don't have an attorney, but will start the process of shopping for one. My more pressing concern was that the letter stated that I'm not allowed to contact the tenant as all future communications need to go through his attorney. Given that I'm in contact with the tenant routinely to schedule rent pick-ups (he pays in cash), I'm not sure I like having to contact the lawyer to ask when I can pick up rent. 

@Jason Bott & @Derek Lacy - I'm just at a loss trying to understand why my insurance is involved at all... Him falling in the parking lot has as much to do with my insurance as if he fell inside the pool, a grocery store or a gas station (all properties I also don't own or have insurance for)...

Jonathan Dickerson ,

I am not an attorney.

I don’t like being told by a plaintiff’s attorney to not contact their client - you have to collect your rent, etc; it’s part of the course of your business to (be able to) communicate with your tenant. I also don’t trust my insurance company to have MY best interest in mind.

There must be a local personal injury attorney who could give you a free consultation. Any attorney should also figure out the legal “weight” of the “no-contact” “order.”

In general, given that the location was under the control of the HOA, the HOA’s insurance should be first to take the hit. Depending on the amount of liability coverage the HOA has - and how far the plaintiff’s attorney wants to take the case - your insurance can certainly also take a hit. You also have no idea how the plaintiff’s own actions may have contributed to the injury.

States differ on “joint and several liability.” Before you speak with any attorney about this - and for your general education - here is the law in PA on that, that may help you understand your potential exposure better:

http://codes.findlaw.com/pa/title-42-pacsa-judiciary-and-judicial-procedure/pa-csa-sect-42-7102.html

I cannot “interpret” the law for you. I believe that you should have little to worry about, but you should have the right to deal with your tenant (as long as he remains your tenant. What, does his attorney want to charge you an hourly fee to be the intermediary for the proverbial clogged toilet?) Good luck!

(Information here does not constitute legal advice.)

I apologize. I was dealing with a bunch of things at once - you are in Colorado, not Pennsylvania.

Here’s what may be able to help you:

http://codes.findlaw.com/co/title-13-courts-and-court-procedure/co-rev-st-sect-13-21-111-5.html

the attorney has no authority behind the command to not contact their client. I would, however, NEVER discuss the fall or anything that resulted from it to protect yourself. 

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I own several restaurants and have to deal with slip and fall accidents a couple times a year. You first need to Stop talking to your tenant's attorney. Second contact your insurance carrier immediately and fill out a claim. You will then be contacted by their insurance adjuster. He'll need your tenant's name, address, birthday,etc. They will then contact your tenant's attorney to see what they are looking for.
Yes, you will probably be sued but it's your insurance carrier's problem now. I'm not an attorney but the tenant's attorney can tell you not to contact your tenant about the case. Your insurance company will not want you talking to the tenant or his attorney about the case. However you can run your business and contact your tenant about other problems / concerns. Do not plan on "getting even" with your tenant for filing the lawsuit. If you were to do this it could be construed as retaliatory retribution and your insurance carrier could sue you for interfering with their case. If you need to say, evict the tenant for something, I would discuss with your carrier before doing anything. I like communicating with all parties concerned thru email - you have a trail. Btw these problems can take years to be settled. Relax, take a breath and continue doing business. You'll be fine.

Originally posted by @Jonathan Dickerson :

Many thanks for the advice. I'll definitely get my insurance carrier in the loop - I don't have an attorney, but will start the process of shopping for one. My more pressing concern was that the letter stated that I'm not allowed to contact the tenant as all future communications need to go through his attorney. Given that I'm in contact with the tenant routinely to schedule rent pick-ups (he pays in cash), I'm not sure I like having to contact the lawyer to ask when I can pick up rent. 

 Jonathan,

Its not a good idea to pick up the rent directly from tenant, especially picking up Cash.. There are many ways you can collect the rent, I won't go with the obvious :).. Im sure theres a good reason why he's not sending you check by mail...

In the future setup a payment method with your lease so you don't have to be the rent collector. Collecting the rent is the best part of what we do and it should be easy. It should magically appear as a deposit in our Checking account or check in the mail.. Not to mention picking up the rent routinely w cash, theres a little danger involve with that and its unnecessary with all the options available..

@Jonathan Dickerson Your question of why your insurance company is involved at all is a good one.  You don't own or control the common area property so why should you get sued, right?  Hopefully that's the argument your insurance company makes, either through an adjuster or legal counsel they retain to represent you.  The problem is that if you don't kick this to your insurance company now and allow them to make that argument, they might claim later that you failed to give them notice of the claim.  While you could legally refuse to provide the attorney with your insurance company's information and tell him to go sue someone else because you don't own/control the property, and it may very well work, if you don't have the blessing of your insurance company to say just that, you run the substantial risk that if you do get sued, the insurance company will have grounds to deny coverage.  Can you get sued on this? Of course.  For better or worse, our legal system allows anyone to sue anyone for anything.  I had a slip and fall case once where it was a meteorological impossibility for any snow/ice to have formed and the only witness to the slip and fall later admitted he was paid to fabricate his story. Will you get out quickly on a motion to dismiss?  That's the question for your lawyer. 

I'll also add that under Colorado law you don't need to own the property to be held liable under premises liability law, but rather the definition of "landowner" under Colorado law is a broad one which includes not only the titled owner, but also anyone who exercises a sufficient degree of control over the circumstances existing or activities taking place on real property where the accident occurred.  In practice, this means in Colorado it's common for not only the titled owner to get sued but also the property manager and in the case of a slip and fall on snow, the snow removal company.  

If this goes anywhere your insurance company will get you an attorney.  If you feel the need to retain one directly that you're paying for, message me and I can refer someone.  I don't do this anymore. :) 

Do you have liability insurance ?

Updates: I called the lawyer and told him I didn't have an insurable interest on the property where the tenant was injured so I couldn't provide any insurance coverage that pertained to the parking lot. The lawyer was candid and said they didn't need my information, but as I was the owner of the property where the tenant was living when the injury occurred, they wanted me to be informed of the pending lawsuit. The attorney said they were wholly pursuing the case against the HOA and Property Management company.

@Al D.  +  @Jennifer A. - The PI attorney also said that despite the wording of the letter, you are both right and I am completely within my right as the landlord to contact the tenant but I am prohibited from discussing the case in any way. 

@Raul Rapalo - I was once told by a local real estate investor that while it's much EASIER to collect the money via Venmo, check or money order, it's nice to be able to collect the cash every month as a good reason to do a visual inspection of the property, the neighborhood and the interior of the home. I'm much less likely to be surprised that my tenants are growing pot or cooking meth if I'm in the home every month and they don't know when I'll be there. My tenant is on permanent disability (an older gentleman who does everything in cash since he cashes his disability check the day it arrives and doesn't use plastic/checks) so it didn't seem like a big deal to accommodate receiving payment in cash. :)

@Liz C. - I do have liability insurance, but I'm hoping I won't be needing any of it, per the update from the tenant's PI Lawyer.

@Jim Shepard - Thanks for the advice. I reached out my insurance company to at least let them know what was going on, but because the PI Attorney told me not to send them anything, they aren't taking any steps at the moment. 

Many thanks for all the advice and guidance. We're dealing with this in the midst of trying to close on our first Self-Directed IRA property and moving 2 grandparents into (and recently out of) hospice. Stay well, everyone and I'll update as developments unfold.

help. Lawyer. Don't volunteer info,

quick question to everyone : doesn’t liability insurance cover that ?

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