The Case of the Lax Landlord

Date: January 6, 2011
Posted In: DLP Law

John was the owner of a multi-residential apartment. John had received numerous complaints from his tenants concerning faulty wiring and defective plumbing. John kept telling his tenants that he would get around to fixing the same, but never did.

On January 1st a fire broke out in the apartments and several of John\’s tenants were seriously burned. Criminal charges were brought against John, but John was acquitted, or found not guilty of those charges.

Several law suits were filed against John for personal injuries. John\’s attorneys attempted to argue that because John was acquitted on the criminal charges, he could not be found liable on the civil charges.

ISSUE: Is John\’s attorneys correct?

ANSWER: No. In criminal cases the Commonwealth is, in effect, the Plaintiff. The Commonwealth must prove its case and its Burden of Proof is to put forth evidence that shows the individual is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case though, the Burden of Proof that the injured party must present is to show that by a preponderance of the evidence the Defendant was negligent. It is like looking at a scale, and as long as the scale tilts to any degree in favor of the Plaintiff, then the Plaintiff is entitled to a recovery.

The fact that John was found innocent in the criminal case, will have little or no bearing as to whether or not he is found liable in the civil case. John may not have been criminally negligent, but may well have been civically negligent and thus responsible for the pain and suffering incurred by the burned victims.

Disclaimer: The above article is for instructive purposes only and each case is fact sensitive. Consultation with an attorney should be obtained instead of reliance upon the legal issues discussed in this column.

Tom Cummings
Thomas P. Cummings has been a Partner with Dougherty Leventhal & Price, LLP since 1996 and has been with the firm since 1991. He focuses his practice on workers’ compensation, Social Security Disability and personal injury cases.