An HOA is Nevada recently was ordered to pay $20 million in a premise liability lawsuit over poorly-maintained playground equipment. The victim’s attorney, Claggett & Sykes Law Firm of Las Vegas, reports that this is one of the largest negligence verdicts against an HOA in Nevada.
Landlords face the same liability when managing rental properties.
In this case, a metal bar broke on the playground and struck the victim, causing a traumatic brain injury. The HOA purchasing the equipment chose to opt out of a maintenance plan offered by the installer.
The size of the verdict alone is alarming, but there is another aspect of this case that should scare landlords: the amount awarded was beyond what the victim requested from the jury, which tacked on a $10 million punitive damages award as well. Punitive damages generally are not covered by insurance.
“This case was unique because we did not present any tangible damages, life care plan, loss of earning capacity or lost earnings, and past medical bills. It was just pain and suffering, which required us to explain to the jury just how devastating a brain injury is to a person now and into the future,” Claggett adds.
Premise liability is based on negligence. To win a case, a victim must show that there was a foreseeable link between the action taken — or not taken — and the resulting injury. The fact that the equipment was sold with the option of a maintenance plan and that the plan was reasonably priced likely figured into the jury’s calculations.
When considering punitive damages, it is common for a jury to weigh the extent of the injury against the cost or burden of preventing it. Other factors juries consider is whether the landlord ignored tenant complaints or reports of needed repairs.
Defending a premise liability lawsuit is especially problematic when the victim is a child. Arguing that parents failed to supervise or that the child contributed to the injury can enrage jury members.
However, a landlord can successfully defend a premise liability claim by showing that the landlord met the industry standard for property maintenance and repairs. Presenting reports from routine property inspections and proving a history of responding to tenant concerns can help by showing that the landlord did what was reasonably necessary to care for the property and keep tenants and guests safe.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.