I LEASED MY BUILDING TO A NEW TENANT
AND A CUSTOMER
SUFFERED AN INJURY. AM I LIABLE?
Commercial lessors frequently organize associations which
generate leases designed, understandably, to protect the interests of
association members. These leases frequently require tenants to completely
maintain the property and absolve lessors of all responsibility for any injury
to person or property, no matter what the cause.
Grapes resting gently in a bowl of fruit pose no danger.
Grapes smashed upon a concrete floor in a market present an invitation to slip
In a case arising out of Los Angeles County, a woman
accepted the invitation, stepped on some grapes resting upon a concrete floor
and slipped and fell. The plaintiff filed a complaint for personal injuries
against the lessor of the premises as well as the operator of the market.
The lessor argued to the Court that as a lessor out of
possession, without any actual notice of the dangerous condition on the floor,
he should be let out of the lawsuit. Although the trial court agreed, the Court
of Appeal instructed the trial court to the contrary, as follows:
". . . a commercial landowner
'cannot totally abrogate its landowner responsibilities merely by signing a
lease. As the owner of property, a lessor out of possession must exercise due
care and must act reasonably toward the tenant as well as to unknown third
persons. . . . At the time the lease is executed and upon renewal a landlord
has a right to reenter the property, has control of the property, and must
inspect the premises to make the premises reasonably safe from dangerous
The Court further observed:
"Even if the commercial
landlord executes a contract which requires the tenant to maintain the property
in a certain condition, the landlord is obligated at the time the lease is
executed to take reasonable precautions to avoid unnecessary danger.'. . . .
'However, the landlord's responsibility to inspect is limited. Like a
residential landlord, the duty to inspect charges the lessor 'only with those
matters which would have been disclosed by a reasonable inspection.'"
One theory of liability argued by the plaintiff was that
the floor of the market was "inherently defective and dangerous."
The plaintiff argued that the floor was "improperly finished" because
it became "slippery when littered with produce...." The plaintiff
asserted that it was "common for the floor of the market to be littered
with grapes." Since a dangerous condition was thus potentially
"recurring or continuous", the Court of Appeal determined that the
matter should proceed to trial.
The moral of the story? Lessors should keep in mind their
obligation to periodically inspect their property as well as to maintain their
insurance policies in good standing.
[This column is intended to provide general information only and
is not intended to provide specific legal advice; if you have a
specific question regarding the law, you should contact an
attorney of your choice. Suggestions for topics to be discussed
in this column are welcome.]
Reprinted from Fabricare
Myles M. Mattenson © 2010