More than 6 million people in Texas rent their homes and apartments. Renters expect that their landlord will provide them a safe place to live. In Texas, renters have the right to demand that landlords repair any condition that affects the physical health and safety of their tenants. Unfortunately, landlords do not always perform the needed maintenance or make the necessary repairs to keep a property safe. A property owner has a duty to use reasonable care to make sure that the property is safe for tenants and visitors. This duty includes the responsibility to regularly inspect, maintain, and repair the property. Failure to live up to this responsibility can result in disastrous consequences. One of the most serious risks of failing to properly inspect and maintain a building, like a rental home or apartment complex, is a roof collapse or ceiling collapse.
Roof & Ceiling Collapse
Roof and ceiling collapses can cause devastating personal injuries, including concussions and other head injuries, neck and back injuries, lacerations, and fractures. In extreme cases, when the property owner or managers knew about the problem—or had similar problems in the past—they could be responsible for punitive damages to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar behavior in the future. A person who controls the property, like a property management company or maintenance company, may share the responsibility to keep the property in a safe condition. Our firm has represented many clients injured by roof and ceiling collapses against apartment complexes, property management companies, and property owners. When a roof or ceiling collapses, the property owner or manager may be held liable for the unsafe product under a number of different theories, including premises liability and negligent activity.
Premises liability simply means that the property owner or manager is responsible for a property defect that causes an injury. If a tenant is injured by a roof or ceiling collapse, she or he must be able to show four elements to hold the landlord liable for injuries.
1. The landlord must have known or should have known about the dangerous condition. For example, actual knowledge may be shown if a maintenance person at an apartment previously noticed a tenant’s ceiling buckling or termite damage to a supporting member. Or a property owner may have created the problem by using improper building materials when repairing an attic space. But even if the landlord did not actually know about a problem, this element may still be proven if, for example, the landlord failed to perform regular inspections of the supporting structures and an inspection would have revealed the need for repairs.
2. The condition must one posing an unreasonable risk of harm. The risk of a roof or ceiling collapse is obviously dangerous and will generally meet this requirement. However, if the danger is obvious to an observer, then a court may find that the risk was not “unreasonable” as a legal matter and dismiss the case before it reaches a jury. For example, if a tenant observes that his ceiling is buckling and support beams are slowly exposed over time, the tenant may be barred from recovery if it was obvious that a collapse was inevitable.
3. The landlord must have not acted reasonably in reducing or eliminating the risk of harm. This includes things that the landlord should have done but did not do. A landlord’s failure to perform regular inspections and maintenance of its property is a clear example of unreasonable conduct. Sometimes, the reasonableness of a landlord’s conduct is more fact-specific. For example, a landlord may discover that a roof regularly leaks and will patch the roof from time to time. Nevertheless, the patches don’t permanently fix the problem, and the roof continues to leak. Because of the leak, the ceiling insulation absorbs moisture over time until the weight of the weight insulation is too much for the drywall to bear. The ceiling collapses into a tenant’s bedroom. Even though the landlord may have taken steps to fix the problem, these steps were not enough. To be reasonable, the landlord should have done more to prevent the ceiling collapse.
4. The tenant must show that the landlord’s failure to act reasonably caused the plaintiff’s injuries. In a ceiling collapse case, the injuries can be devastating. Nevertheless, it must still be shown that the injuries are caused by the roof or ceiling collapse, rather than a pre-existing condition or some other incident. The elements of premises liability are highly fact-intensive, and Texas law is challenging for injured people in a premises liability case. Proving a premises liability case requires both an extensive investigation of the facts and deep legal know-how. That is why, if you have been hurt by a premises defect, it is important to hire a law firm like ours with the experience, skill, and resources to develop the evidence needed to prove the premises defect caused your injuries.
Visitors and Social Guests
In Texas, premises liability law treats tenants and visitors differently. That is because Texas law provides more protection for someone who enters a property with the landlord’s knowledge and for the mutual benefit of both parties. A tenant who is paying rent is known as the landlord and both parties get a mutual benefit—the landlord receives rent and the tenant gets a place to live. On the other hand, a landlord may not be getting any benefit from a tenant’s social guest, nor does the landlord necessarily know that a guest is visiting the property. Tenants are entitled to greater protection under the law than social guests.
If a roof or ceiling collapse injures a visitor or social guest, the visitor must first show that the landlord knew about the dangerous condition that hurt him or her. It is not enough that the landlord should have known about it if the landlord lacked actual knowledge. Second, the visitor must show that he or she did not know about the dangerous condition. If one or both of these elements cannot be proven, the visitor is unlikely to succeed in a premises liability case against the landlord.
Trespassers at a property are given even less protection. A landlord’s only duty to a trespasser is not to hurt the trespasser intentionally or by gross negligence. Gross negligence is a high bar, which requires that the landlord has been actually aware of an extreme degree of risk, but nevertheless proceeded anyway with conscious indifference to the rights and safety of others.
A negligent activity case is different than one involving a premises defect. A premises defect involves a condition of the property created by negligence. On the other hand, negligent activity is concerned with an ongoing activity that causes an injury. For example, if a maintenance worker spills lubricant on a walkway, and a tenant later slips on it, the spilled lubricant is a premises defect. But if the tenant is walking by and the maintenance worker spills the lubricant on the tenant, causing him to fall, that case would be negligent activity.
The difference is important because the negligent activity is easier to prove under Texas law. The negligent activity requires only that the injured person prove a duty to act reasonably and a breach of that duty that causes the injury.
A negligent activity may arise in a roof or ceiling collapse case. For example, if maintenance workers are working on a roof and during the course of repairs, the roof collapses, the ongoing activities of the workers may qualify as a negligent activity claim. An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to identify the legal theories that will apply in your case.
If you were injured from a ceiling collapse, Armstrong & Lee can help review your case. With a 4.9-star Google review from over 70 clients, the firm has worked hard to build a reputation in the Texas community. Contact us online or call for a free case review.
Compliance with Standards and Regulations
States like Texas also provide protection to tenants and others by enacting laws and imposing regulations that apply to builders and property owners. The Texas Legislature has enacted laws that provide minimum requirements that housing and other structures must meet with respect to safety. These laws incorporate, for example, industry standards like the International Residential Code. Municipalities and local governments may also adopt amendments and other protections. If a property owner fails to meet these standards, we may argue that this failure constitutes negligence in and of itself. If a governmental inspection has shown violations of applicable building codes in the past, those prior violations may also be evidence that the landlord knew or should have known of the problems that led to a roof or ceiling collapse.
Our lawyers would perform a complete investigation as to any building code violations previously found at the property. We often work with industry experts to investigate, identify, and document all violations of the appropriate standard of care that should have been followed by the landlord to prevent the injuries resulting from a roof or ceiling collapse.
Roof and ceiling collapse cases typically involve complex factual and legal issues requiring the expertise of experienced lawyers and experts. The attorneys at Armstrong & Lee LLP have extensive experience working with experts to identify the causes of the severe injuries that arise in these cases. We have the knowledge and resources to identify when a manufacturer can be held responsible for unsafe premises, and we have the expertise to hold negligent property owners and managers responsible. Contact us today for a free consultation regarding your case by calling (832) 864-5759.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: A roof or ceiling collapsed on me. What kind of case do I have?
Answer: In Texas, roof and ceiling collapse cases generally fall into one of two categories: premises liability and or negligent activity.
Q: What does “premises liability” mean?
Answer: In Texas, premises liability means any action against a landlord (the property owner or another person who controls the property) for the recovery of damages for personal injury, death, or property damage caused by a defective condition of the property.
Q: How do I prove a premises liability case?
Answer: It depends on your relationship to the landlord.
If you are a tenant or have a business relationship with the owner, you must show that the landlord knew or should have known about a dangerous condition, that condition posed an unreasonable risk, that the landlord unreasonably failed to reduce or eliminate the risk, and that the failure caused your injuries. Dangerous conditions can include things like damaged supporting beams, the buildup debris and moisture, and the use of improper materials used for supporting structures.
If you are a visitor or social guest at the property, you must also show that the landlord actually knew about the dangerous condition and that you did not know about the condition.
Q: Who can be held responsible for dangerous premises?
Answer: Usually the responsible party will be the property owner. However, anyone who has control over the dangerous condition, such as a property management company, can be responsible for a premises defect.
Q: What does “negligent activity” mean?
Answer: A negligent activity case is one where some ongoing activity, like repair or construction work, causes an injury at the time the work is being performed. If the condition was created by negligence at some earlier point in time, the case is likely a premises liability case, not negligent activity.
Q: How do I prove a negligent activity case?
Answer: A negligent activity case requires proof that the person performing the injury-causing activity had a duty to act reasonably and breached that duty causing your damages.
Q: How long do I have to file a claim for a roof or ceiling collapse?
Answer: Under Texas law, you have two years to file a premises liability or negligent activity lawsuit from the date of the injury.
Q: What damages are recoverable in a roof or ceiling collapse case?
Answer: In Texas, the damages available in roof or ceiling collage cases can include payment for medical and pharmaceutical expenses, lost wages, physical impairment, pain, mental anguish, and disfigurement. The damages available to you will depend on the specific facts of your case.
Q: Do I have to pay a fee to have an attorney at Armstrong & Lee LLP review my case?
Answer: No. If you feel that you or a loved one may have been harmed by a defective product, our team will review your case free of charge.
Q: What does it cost to hire an experienced roof or ceiling collapse attorney and law firm?
Answer: In personal injury and wrongful death cases, injured parties usually pay a “contingent” legal fee. Under a contingent fee arrangement, the client does not pay the attorney an hourly rate. Instead, the attorney’s fee is a defined percentage of the amount of money that is recovered in a lawsuit. That percentage can vary depending on the circumstances of the case. Additionally, the law firm handling the case will usually pay all necessary out-of-pocket expenses. The law firm will have a right of reimbursement of expenses at the conclusion of the case. In a contingent fee arrangement with Armstrong & Lee LLP, if there is no financial recovery in a lawsuit, there is no fee paid to the attorneys. This means the financial interests of the attorney and client are aligned.
Q: How much should I settle for negligence in a ceiling collapse lawsuit?
Answer: Whether the case settles at the top or bottom of the amount found reasonable depends on many factors. We can discuss the specific details of your case to determine what can be a reasonable settlement.