Law Offices of Heist, Weisse, and Wolk, P.A.
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Each year thousands of children are injured due to stoves and other heavy items capable of tilting or falling, such as wall units, bookshelves and entertainment centers. Huge lawsuits have been filed, resulting in large judgments against both property owners and manufacturers of these items. Could a owner or property manager be liable for injuries caused in these situations? Quite possibly. It is crucial that part of the safety evaluation a manager makes of the rental unit includes checking for items which may tip or fall over if misused.

The Tipping Stove

The tipping stove has the potential for causing serious injury due to the secondary injury caused by the child being doused with a hot substance which may be cooking on the stove and subsequently spills or the child can be trapped by the fallen stove and exposed to the hot element. As appliances get lighter each year, the danger increases. Commonly, a child will open the oven door, climb up onto the door and cause the stove to partially or completely tip over. Since gas stoves generally are attached by a rigid or semi rigid pipe, they are less apt to tip. The problem is more prone to occur with electric stoves, and in Florida, electric stoves are predominantly in use.

Who is Liable?

While it is clearly an improper use of the stove for a child to intentionally climb up onto the open oven door, it is possible that a jury may find that if there was a way that a stove could be prevented from tipping, this may place a duty on the owner of the stove, i.e., the manager, to prevent the stove from being able to tip. In many cases we see juries rule against a manager if it can be proven that had the manager done something as simple as installing a light fixture in a darkened area of the property or installing a non-slip surface in an area that often gets wet and slippery, a severe injury to the resident could have been prevented. Here the manager is being held liable for something that the law did not actually require, but had additional, preventative measures been taken, the resident’s injury may have been averted. This is the same principle and legal theory which can create liability on the part of the manager for a tipping stove injury.

The Law

Florida law does not require that the manager take any preventative measures to insure that a stove does not tip over when misused by a child. Nothing in the Landlord/Tenant Act specifically addresses the issue. However, the manager is required to keep the premises in a safe condition, and there may be an implied warranty of habitability imposed upon the manager.

The Tipping Stove Solution

It is simple and inexpensive to anchor a stove to the floor with a u-bolt or other anchoring device and/or attach a strap to the back of the stove securing the stove to a solid and sturdy section of the wall. It is crucial that the strap is secured solidly to either a wall beam or a large molly bolt or wall anchor is used. The cost is minimal, no license is necessary to undertake such a precautionary measure, and you or your maintenance person should be able to handle such a job. Just because many new stoves now come with anchoring mechanisms, you should assume that an installer may not have actually installed it properly or installed it at all.

The Tipping Wall Unit or Entertainment Center

If the manager is renting out a furnished unit, and book cases, wall units, entertainment centers or other items exist that are free standing, the manager could be held liable for injuries sustained due to the tipping over of these items. Again, these items should be anchored properly to prevent injuries from occurring. You may feel that it is absurd that you could be held liable for the obvious gross negligence of a resident or the resident’s child, but a jury could feel otherwise. If the bookcase or entertainment center belongs to the resident, the potential liability on the part of the manager would be decreased dramatically, but in a furnished unit, extreme care must be taken.

Our Recommendations

We recommend that all managers as part of their safety evaluation of the property go through each and every room to determine if there is anything on the premises and belonging to the manager that could potentially tip over in the case of misuse. If any items are discovered, these should be secured to the floor or wall immediately. Do not neglect to check the garage or storage areas, as often these area contain shelves or cabinets that can tip.


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