Every year, millions of Americans experience preventable injuries due to property owners neglecting their property. Property owners have a duty to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition, which means that property owners are liable for injuries caused by a dangerous condition on their property that they knew or should have known about. Numerous potential dangerous conditions, like snow, ice, poor lighting, and tripping hazards, can arise on someone’s property, especially if the property is large. Property owners that have property meant for a large number of people, such as malls, shopping centers, and residential buildings, usually hire a property management company to help them fulfill their duty of maintaining their premises in a reasonably safe condition.
If someone is injured due to a dangerous condition on a property that has a property management company, the question becomes who is liable for those injuries? As in all negligence cases, the injured party must prove that a party breached their duty and that the breach of their duty caused the injuries to the injured party.
As mentioned above, Virginia premises liability law clearly states that the property owner is responsible for keeping their property reasonably safe. The property owner may try to argue that they fulfilled their duty of care by hiring a property management company to maintain their property in a safe condition. However, in Virginia, the law is that the property owner has a nondelegable duty to keep its premises reasonably safe (Love v. Smith, 239 Va. 357, 361 (1990)). This means that a property owner may hire another party to perform their nondelegable duty. However, they still owe that duty of care.
In short, even if a property owner hires a management company to maintain their property in a safe condition, the property owner will still be liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions because they cannot delegate their duty of care.
The law is less clear with property management companies. The issue revolving around the property management company being liable for injuries caused by a dangerous condition on the property is that the property management company’s duty is a contractual duty with the property owner. This means that property management companies may argue that they did not owe a duty to the injured party because their duty is solely a contractual duty to the property owner. However, various Circuit Courts in Virginia have ruled that the property management company has an independent duty to use reasonable care when maintaining the premises recognizing that it is foreseeable that people other than the property owner will be using the property and will be impacted by the property management company’s performance.
One case that dealt with property management companies’ liability was Milburn v. J.C. Penney Properties, 2007 Va. Cir. LEXIS 42. In Milburn, a Virginia woman sued a property management company after she fell outside of a store at a mall they managed. The property management company argued that it owed no duty to the woman to maintain the property because it did not own it. The Circuit Court of Fairfax County found that the property management company could be held liable, stating that allowing property managers to “receive significant compensation for maintaining premises like malls […] while avoiding any potential liability to the members of the general public whom they are contractually obligated to make reasonable efforts to protect, would be inconsistent with appropriate public policy considerations.”
If you are injured on the property of another due to a dangerous condition, it can be challenging to prove that the management company and property owner both breached their duty of care. An experienced Virginia premises lawyer can help you determine whether you have a valid claim. And if so, prove that both the property owner and property management company were negligent and obtain compensation on your behalf, which includes reimbursement of medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Call or text us at 703-836-3366, or contact us at our website to discuss your legal options.
Rakin Hamad joined Curcio Law as an associate in August 2018 after graduating from George Mason Law School. During law school, Rakin demonstrated his dedication to client advocacy and was a member of the trial advocacy association, the pro bono society, and the George Mason Law Review. His approach to the law mirrors the firm’s philosophy of treating each client with commitment, compassion and character. Contact Rakin at firstname.lastname@example.org.