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Case Over Girl’s Crushed Skull Revived in CT

(CN) - A landlord must face claims over the concrete that crushed a 7-year-old's skull after a boy chucked it from his apartment, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled.

The ruling notes that Victory Properties LLC was aware of the poor conditions outside of its six-family apartment building at 138 North Street in New Britain.

In addition to the discarded home furnishings and abandoned car wreck that took up space in the back yard that young tenants used as a playground, "chunks of concrete were lying about, along with piles of construction material, trash and rocks" because of the deteriorating concrete sidewalks and retaining walls, the record shows.

The owner of Victory Properties, who served as the building manager, allegedly knew that tenants had concerns about these conditions since their children would play with the broken concrete and other debris.

This manager saw the conditions every month when he went to collect rent, and at least one tenant complained to him about it, the complaint states.

The debris was fully accessible to the children living in the building on May 14, 2008, when a 10-year-old tenant decided to throw an 18-pound chunk of concrete off his third-floor apartment's balcony to see if it would break.

He saw too late that his 7-year-old cousin, who lived in a different apartment of the building, was in the path of the rock, and Adriana Ruiz did not get out of the way in time.

Adriana was hospitalized for two months with a crushed skull, paralysis on her right side and a traumatic brain injury.

When Adriana's mother, Olga Rivera, sued Victory Properties for negligence, the trial court granted the landlord summary judgment, calling the child's injury unforeseeable.

An appellate panel reversed, however, and the Connecticut Supreme Court agreed last week that the claims against Victory Properties should go to trial.

Noting the standard that landlords are obligated "to maintain the common areas of an apartment building in a reasonably safe condition for the benefit of the tenants who reside in the building," the court rejected attempts by Victory Properties to minimize the risk that the broken concrete posed.

"For our part, we are hard pressed to conceive of any set of circumstances in which it would be reasonable for a landlord, on the basis of his or her belief that pieces of broken concrete pose no inherent danger to children, to allow such debris to accumulate in an area frequented by children at play," Justice Richard Palmer wrote for the three-member court. "Even if we agreed, however, that pieces of broken concrete are inherently harmless, we are aware of no authority that stands for the proposition that a person cannot be held liable for injuries resulting from such objects. For example, magazines and books are the most innocuous of items, but few would argue that they cannot become a fire hazard if allowed to accumulate, over time, in a hallway or attic. "

It is also "common knowledge that children do not always appreciate the dangers inherent in their surroundings and often will play with objects found lying around," the Jan. 20 ruling continues.

Though Adriana's injuries occurred in an "unusual manner," they still fall into the same "continuum of harm" as the broken bones or concussions that could occur from children playing near the trash and concrete in the yard, the court found.

"We conclude, therefore, that the plaintiffs are entitled to a jury determination of their claim that the defendant bears at least some responsibility for Adriana's injuries," Palmer wrote.

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