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Landlord’s Liability for Injuries to Children: Connecticut Supreme Court Looks at “Foreseeability”

Is it foreseeable that a ten-year-old boy would drag an 18-pound chunk of concrete up to his family’s third-floor apartment and drop it on the head of his seven-year-old neighbor, causing devastating and traumatic brain injuries and paralysis? Should the landlord who knowingly allowed that piece of concrete and many others to lay in the backyard of the apartment building where those children played be responsible for the injuries suffered by the poor little girl whose life has been devastated because of the incident?

Ruiz v. Victory Props., LLC

Those were just a couple of the questions recently faced by the Connecticut Supreme Court in the case of Ruiz v. Victory Props., LLC. In agreeing with the appellate court that it is a question for the jury as to whether the landlord was at least in part responsible for the girl’s injuries, the Court analyzed the relationship between a property owner’s duty to maintain his premises in a safe condition and the infinite number of ways that people in general, and children in particular, can cause and suffer injuries.

In this recent post, I discussed premises liability in Connecticut, which is the legal concept that holds property owners responsible for injuries that happen due to their failure to maintain their property in a safe condition. For owners of apartment buildings, the general rule as cited by the Court “is that landlords owe a duty of reasonable care as to those parts of the property over which they have retained control. What defines the landlord’s duty is the obligation to take reasonable measures to ensure that the space over which it exercises dominion is safe from dangers, and a landlord may incur liability by failing to do so.”

Foreseeability Isn’t Overly Narrow or Specific

The scope of a landlord’s duty, and the test of whether the common areas of the apartment building are “safe from dangers” is to a large degree determined by foreseeability. As the Court explained: “The ultimate test of the duty is to be found in the reasonable foreseeability of harm resulting from a failure to exercise reasonable care to keep the premises reasonably safe.”

In Ruiz, the landlord argued that while he was aware of the broken concrete in the yard, that children played in the yard, and that it was perhaps foreseeable that children playing in the yard could have been injured while playing on or around the concrete, it was completely unforeseeable that one of those children would throw a large piece of the concrete from a third story window on to another child’s head causing the serious injuries that resulted.

The Court rejected this narrow conception of “foreseeability:”

Foreseeability is not whether the child would have thrown the concrete from 3 stories up but rather as long as harm of the general nature as that which occurred is foreseeable there is a basis for liability even though the manner in which the accident happens is unusual, bizarre or unforeseeable.”

The Court concluded that “we are hard pressed to conceive of any set of circumstances in which it would be reasonable for a landlord, on the basis of his or her belief that pieces of broken concrete pose no inherent danger to children, to allow such debris to accumulate in an area frequented by children at play.”

The Ruiz decision is a reminder to Connecticut property owners and landlords that liability for the unsafe condition of their premises, particularly when children are involved, is not limited by their imaginations as to what kinds of conduct may be engaged in on their property or the nature and severity of the injuries that could result.

Nugent & Bryant: Your Connecticut Personal Injury Law Firm

At Nugent & Bryant, we have worked hard to build a reputation as one of Connecticut’s premier law firms advocating for accident victims’ rights. We are an exceptional law firm that has been achieving results for our clients over 30 years. If you have suffered a personal injury or catastrophic injury, or are dealing with the aftermath of the wrongful death of a loved one, call us today at (203) 795-1111 for a free consultation.

This article has been prepared by Nugent & Bryant for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.