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Des Moines Injury Lawyer


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Injured On Someone Else’s Property in Des Moines, Iowa? Our Des Moines Personal Injury Attorneys Can Help.

The term “premises liability” may conjure images of people being injured by falling down an elevator shaft or having a balcony collapse while they are on it. Other people may think of injuries caused, at least in part, by a facility providing inadequate security while others might think of injuries caused by insufficient lighting. Still others may think of the traditional “slip and fall” or “trip and fall”. Regardless of what school of thought you subscribe to, you are correct!

To our Des Moines personal injury lawyers, premises liability cases are, in short, those in which someone is injured while on someone else’s property – regardless of cause. There are also scenarios in which someone is injured on their own property that might give rise to a premises liability case. Examples of both types of claims are discussed in detail below.

However, before delving further into premises liability cases, a true definition may be helpful:

“Premises” is defined as: a house or building, together with its land and outbuildings, occupied by a business or considered in an official context;

“Liability” is defined as: the state of being responsible for something, especially by law.

Thus, premises liability cases are those cases in which someone is responsible (liable) for someone else’s injuries that were sustained on or at the responsible persons property (premises). The types of facilities where injuries occur is as vast as the types of buildings that exist. Some of the more common businesses that our Des Moines personal injury lawyers have brought claims against include, but are not limited to: hotels, grocery stores, apartment complexes, hospitals, and more. The types of injuries our lawyers have seen are just as wide-ranging and include soft-tissue, brain injuries, wrongful death, Legionnaires disease and nearly everything in between.

In short, if you have been injured on someone else’s property (or your own in some circumstances) in Des Moines or elsewhere in Iowa, you may well have a case that falls under the premises liability umbrella.


Based on the definition above, it can be safely assumed that the types of premises liability cases are wide-ranging and, unfortunately, quite common. Following is a list of but a few of the premises liability cases that our Des Moines personal injury lawyers have handled along with some commentary regarding the law and similar cases:

Collapsing Condominium Deck

Attorney Chris Johnston represented a man whose second floor deck tore from the side of his condominium while he was standing on it and the nearly twenty foot drop resulted in significant injury.

As with every type of personal injury case, one of the first things that needs to be determined in premises liability cases is who is actually responsible for the negligence that caused injury. What makes condominium injury cases (and some town home cases) different than most other case-types is that the lease or a homeowner’s association agreement often state, in black and white, who is responsible and what the extent of their responsibility is. Often, the “homeowner” is responsible for any and all issues that arise inside their home while the association is responsible for any and all issues that arise outside of the unit.

In this “collapsing deck case”, the condo association, via contract with the unit owner, had agreed that all deck maintenance was its responsibility and, therefore, the personal injury claim was made against the association.

Cases such as the collapsing deck case described above are somewhat unusual in that a homeowner of a single family home maintains responsibility of all areas of his or her property, inside and out, and, therefore cannot make a personal injury claim if they are injured on their own property (aside from a product liability claim or other similar third-party claim). However, in condominium and townhouse personal injury cases, the unit owner may have a personal injury claim against their own association depending on where and how the injury occurred.


Attorney Chris Johnston has represented many individuals who were injured while living in, or visiting, an apartment complex. Much like condominium cases, renters of apartments, as well as their guests, are often able to make a successful personal injury claim depending on where in the apartment complex the injury occurred.

The general rule is, if someone is injured in a “common area” of the complex, the claim is made against the owner / operator / manager of the complex.  A “common area” is that area which is made available for all renters of the complex and the landowner maintains control. Stairwells, lobby areas, elevators, and parking lots are all examples of common areas. If someone is injured inside an individual unit, the claim is usually made directly against the tenant.

Broken hand railing causing injury

A recent client of our personal injury firm was injured while descending the stairs to her basement level apartment. As she applied weight to the hand railing, the rail swung away from her as a result of missing bolts at the base of the railing. This movement caused the client to fall and suffer a serious injury. Although the client lived in the complex where the incident occurred, it happened in a common area and, thus, the landlord was liable for negligently maintaining the hand rail.

Ripped carpet causing injury

Another past client of our law firm was injured while visiting a friend at an apartment. In that case, there was a tear in the hallway carpet and the hall lights were not working. The client tripped over the torn carpet and fell. The building owner was liable for both the ripped carpet and the insufficient lighting which both contributed to the client’s fall and subsequent injuries.

Insufficient lighting resulting in injury

Still another client of Mr. Johnston was sexually assaulted outside of her garage which was provided and maintained by the owner of her apartment complex. Mr. Johnston sued the building owner and, during the process, discovered that the large parking lot lights as well as the smaller garage mounted lights were not working during the months leading up to the attack. With this information, the insurance company for the building owner paid to settle the case rather than continue the fight.

Collapsing tree house causing injury

Mr. Johnston successfully represented a young lady who was playing in a neighbor’s tree-house. As she played, the bottom of the tree-house tore from one of the trees to which it was secured causing the young lady to plummet approximately thirty feet to the ground. Upon landing, the client suffered a severely broken back.

A premises liability claim was made against the homeowner and the case was ultimately settled without having to go to court.

Falling tree kills man

One of the more unique premises liability cases that attorney Chris Johnston has encountered involved a tree-trimmer, a landowner, and an innocent bystander who was killed by a falling tree. In this case, a homeowner asked a friend to fell a tree for him as the friend was a professional arborist. The friend agreed to do the job for free and plans were made and a date set.

On the selected date, the friend arrived to fell the tree and he was using his employer’s equipment to do the job. As the arborist began to work, the homeowner’s neighbor came over to see what was occurring. As the homeowner and neighbor talked, the arborist continued to work and cut the top off the tree but failed to secure it with rope to another section of tree. The treetop fell and struck the neighbor killing him instantly.

There was extensive debate on who was responsible for this tragedy. The homeowner’s insurance company blamed the arborist, the arborist’s insurance company denied and argued that the arborist was not technically “working” at the time of the fatality and they blamed the homeowners. And, the homeowner and arborist both blamed the decedent.

Ultimately, with these specific facts, it was determined that the homeowner was responsible for this premises liability case.

Elevator causing injury

Mr. Johnston also represented an elderly man who was injured when he stepped into an open elevator only to discover that the car itself had stopped approximately eight inches lower than it should have. This difference in floor height caused the man to fall into the elevator car and suffer a significant personal injury.

Due, in part, to the fact that this particular elevator had frequent service calls made for the exact issue caused both the building owner and the elevator repair company to quickly resolve this premises liability case.


Our Des Moines, Iowa personal injury attorneys have extensive experience handling many different types of premises liability cases and, as always, are happy to review the facts of your particular case and discuss your options and rights. Email or call us today at 515-493-4878 for an absolutely free consultation. Should you choose to hire our personal injury firm, you will never pay us a penny until we make a recovery for you and our fee is then a percentage of your recovery.

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“Brad is one of the most open and compassionate attorneys I have ever met. He is not only thorough and detail-oriented, but is a good listener and approaches everything with integrity.”
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    Highly recommend Chris Johnston! Was easy to work with, straight forward, capable to take on any challenge, and an excellent communicator!
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    Johnston/Martineau is an excellent personal injury firm. They are very attentive to their clients and take the time to answer any and all questions to ease the process as much as possible, allowing clients to focus on their healing. I would highly recommend them!
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