Justia Landlord - Tenant Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Association of Village Council Presidents Regional Housing Authority v. Mael, et al.
A boiler exploded in a home owned by a nonprofit regional housing authority, severely injuring a man who lived there. He sued the housing authority in both contract and tort, claiming that his lease-purchase contract included a promise that the authority would inspect the boiler, which it failed to do with reasonable care. After the man dismissed his contract claim, the housing authority asked the court to decide as a matter of law that a breach of a contractual promise could not give rise to a tort claim. But the superior court allowed the man to proceed to trial on his tort claim, and the jury awarded over $3 million in damages, including over $1.5 million in noneconomic damages and separate awards to several of his family members for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The court reduced the man’s noneconomic damages award to $1 million because of a statutory damages cap, but it excluded the family members’ awards from the amount subject to the cap. The housing authority appealed, maintaining it should have been granted a judgment notwithstanding the verdict because the contract did not create a continuing legal duty to inspect the boiler with reasonable care. It also argued it should have been granted a new trial because it had established that the boiler explosion was caused by a product defect rather than negligent inspection. Finally, the authority argued the family members’ damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress should have been included in the amount subject to the statutory damages cap. The man cross-appealed, arguing that the damages cap violated due process because it failed to account for inflation or the severe nature of his physical injuries. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the superior court's judgment on all issues. View "Association of Village Council Presidents Regional Housing Authority v. Mael, et al." on Justia Law
Fountain v. Fred’s, Inc., et al.
The South Carolina Supreme Court granted review of a court of appeals' decision affirming a trial court's finding that Respondents Fred's, Inc. (Fred's) and Wildevco, LLC (Wildevco) were entitled to equitable indemnification from Petitioner Tippins-Polk Construction, Inc. (Tippins-Polk). Respondent Fred's was a Tennessee corporation that operated a chain of discount general merchandise stores in several states, including South Carolina. Respondent Wildevco is a South Carolina limited liability company that owned a tract of undeveloped commercial property in Williston, South Carolina. In February 2005, Wildevco and Fred's entered into a lease agreement in which Wildevco agreed to construct a 16,000-square-foot commercial space located in Williston, South Carolina, according to Fred's conceptual design specifications. In turn, Fred's agreed to lease the property for ten years. In April 2005, Wildevco entered into a contract with general contractor Tippins-Polk for the construction of the Fred's store and adjoining strip center. Pursuant to the lease agreement between Wildevco and Fred's, Wildevco was the party responsible for "keep[ing] and repair[ing] the exterior of the  Premises, including the parking lot, parking lot lights, entrance and exits, sidewalks, ramps, curbs," and various other exterior elements. Fred's was responsible for maintenance of the interior of the premises. Five years after the Fred's store opened, on a sunny day in March, Martha Fountain went to the Williston Fred's to purchase light bulbs. Her toe caught the sloped portion of the ramp at the entrance of the store, causing her to trip and fall. Fountain sustained serious injuries to her hand, wrist, and arm and has undergone five surgeries to alleviate her pain and injuries. Fountain and her husband filed a premises liability suit against Fred's and Wildevco, alleging Respondents breached their duty to invitees by failing to maintain and inspect the premises and failing to discover and make safe or warn of unreasonable risks. Pertinent to this appeal, Tippins-Polk argued the court of appeals erred in finding a special relationship existed between it and Fred's and in finding Respondents proved they were without fault as to the Fountain premises liability claim. Because the Supreme Court found Respondents failed to establish they were without fault in the underlying action, judgment was reversed. View "Fountain v. Fred's, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Higgins v. Bailey
The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review was whether a landlord who had no knowledge that a tenant’s dog had dangerous propensities could be held liable for injuries the dog causes to individuals who enter the property with tenant’s permission. Plaintiff Katherine Higgins, who was badly injured by a tenant’s dog while on the leased property, challenged the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to defendant landlords. When he was showing the house on landlords’ behalf after tenant moved in, a realtor who was representing landlords in marketing the property observed obvious signs around the house that a dog lived there, including door casings that were badly scratched by the dog. The realtor did not see the dog and did not know its size or breed or whether it had ever acted aggressively towards any person or other animal; based on the sound of the dog, he opined that it was “tough and loud.” Plaintiff, a neighbor, was attacked and seriously injured by tenant’s dog, an American Pitbull Terrier, while visiting tenant on the rental property. On appeal, plaintiff renews her argument that landlords have a general duty of care to the public, and that this duty includes a duty of reasonable inquiry concerning tenants’ domestic animals. In addition, she argues that landlords were on notice of the dog’s dangerous propensities on the basis of the observations made by realtor, acting as landlords’ agent. Finally, she contends that landlords are liable to plaintiff on the basis of a municipal ordinance. Finding no reversible error in granting summary judgment to the landlords, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Higgins v. Bailey" on Justia Law
Pareja v. Princeton International Properties
In January 2015, plaintiff Angel Pareja was walking to work when he slipped on ice, fell, and broke his hip. The sidewalk area on which he fell was on property owned and managed by defendant Princeton International Properties, Inc. (Princeton International). The night before, a wintry mix of light rain, freezing rain, and sleet began to fall. Around the time of his fall, light rain and pockets of freezing rain were falling. Pareja’s expert opined that Princeton International could have successfully reduced the hazardous icy condition by pre-treating the sidewalk. The trial court granted summary judgment to Princeton International. The Appellate Division reversed, holding Princeton International had a duty of reasonable care to maintain the sidewalk even when precipitation was falling. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, finding that Princeton International owed Pareja a duty only in unusual circumstances, none of which were present here. Princeton International took no action to increase Pareja’s risk, and the record showed that the ice on the sidewalk was not a pre-existing condition. View "Pareja v. Princeton International Properties" on Justia Law
Lewis v. Howard L. Allen Investments, Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the district court granting summary judgment dismissing Kristina Lewis's negligence claims against Howard L. Allen Investments, Inc. (Allen Investments), holding that Allen Investments did not owe a duty to protect Lewis from the harm she suffered.Allen Investments sold a house under a contract of sale that required the buyers to make monthly payments for ten years. Five years into the payment period the buyers leased the house to Lewis and her fiancé. The house subsequently caught fire, causing Lewis to suffer serious injuries. Lewis brought this negligence action against the buyers and Allen Investments. The district court granted summary judgment for Allen Investments, concluding that the company, as a contract seller, owed no duty to Lewis. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Allen Investments was not the landlord of the property under Iowa's Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, Iowa Code chapter 562A; and (2) Allen Investments owed no duty of care to Lewis to maintain the property. View "Lewis v. Howard L. Allen Investments, Inc." on Justia Law
Zuniga v. Cherry Avenue Auction, Inc.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of plaintiff in an action brought against defendants, the owners and operators of an outdoor swap meet, where plaintiff and her husband rented two vendor spaces. When plaintiff and her husband were setting up their booth, a 28-foot metal pole holding their advertising banner touched an overhead power line. Plaintiff and her husband were electrocuted, and he died. A jury found that defendants were 77.5 percent at fault and plaintiff's damages totaled $12.25 million. Defendants contend that they owe no duty of care to plaintiff because the danger presented by the overhead power line was open and obvious.The court concluded that the evidence presented in this case did not establish as a matter of law that the danger was open and obvious. The court explained that it was not obvious that the line was uninsulated, that it was energized, or that the amount of electricity being transmitted was lethal. Therefore, a warning would not have been superfluous; it would have provided information that was not obvious. The court also concluded that, because no workers' compensation insurance covered the injuries to plaintiff and her husband, the Privette doctrine should not be extended to the landlord-tenant relationship that existed in this case. View "Zuniga v. Cherry Avenue Auction, Inc." on Justia Law
Punches v. McCarrey Glenn Apartments LLC
In March 2014, Evvie Punches rented a one-bedroom apartment in the Conifer Groves complex in Anchorage; she renewed the lease in April 2015. The complex was owned by McCarrey Glen Apartments, LLC and managed by Weidner Property Management, LCC. Punches complained to the property manager since moving in regarding air quality in the apartment, and mold around the toilet. These issues continued despite a number of attempts by Weidner’s maintenance staff to fix them. Punches nonetheless renewed her lease in April 2015. When the property manager tried to arrange an inspection, Punches refused to allow maintenance staff into her apartment because she would not be home. Punches moved out of her apartment on March 2016 after delivering Weidner a “Notice of Defects in Essential Services.” Her notice listed issues with the front door, mold on the ceiling, mold on the carpet, damage from a previous fire, water damage, and “insufficient windows” that permitted “free flowing air throughout” the apartment. Punches moved to Minneapolis some time after she left her Alaska apartment, and sought care in Minnesota for various skin infections and reported that she had been exposed to mold for two years. She continued to pursue a connection between mold exposure and her recurring skin infections and other ailments. In 2017, she sued her former landlord and the property management company, claiming the companies negligently failed to eradicate mold in her apartment, thereby breaching the habitability provisions of the lease and causing her to suffer personal injury and property damage. After considerable delay involving discovery disputes, the superior court granted summary judgment dismissing Punches' personal injury claim. The parties went to trial on the tenant’s property damage and contract claims after the superior court precluded the tenant from introducing evidence relating to her personal injury claim. The jury rejected Punches' claims, and judgment was entered in favor of the companies. Punches appealed, contending that the court erred by ruling against her in discovery disputes, by denying her a further extension of time to oppose summary judgment, and by limiting the evidence she could present at trial. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the court did not abuse its discretion when making the challenged rulings, and therefore affirmed the judgment against the tenant. View "Punches v. McCarrey Glenn Apartments LLC" on Justia Law
Garcia v. D/AQ Corp.
Plaintiff, the lessee under a lease for commercial premises, filed suit against defendants, alleging causes of action for premises liability and negligence after he fell down a staircase after hitting his head on a beam in the doorway at the top of the staircase. Plaintiff alleged that his fall was caused by the inherently dangerous condition of the staircase due to numerous building code violations.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment based on the exculpatory clause in the lease. In this case, plaintiff alleges ordinary, passive negligence -- the failure to discover a dangerous condition or to perform a duty imposed by law. The court held that the exculpatory clause shields the lessor from liability for ordinary negligence; its language is clear that the lesser shall not be liable for injury to the person of lessee; and these circumstances make this a case where, when the parties knowingly bargain for the protection at issue, the protection should be afforded. View "Garcia v. D/AQ Corp." on Justia Law
Duncan v. Long
Appellant Sky Duncan’s daughter, K.R., attended a daycare Anna McCowin ran out of a residence she leased from Respondent Scott Long. In 2014, McCowin left K.R. unattended in the backyard, which allowed K.R. to allegedly escape through a broken gate to a nearby canal where she drowned. Duncan sued McCowin and Long for negligence. Long moved for summary judgment, arguing that he did not owe Duncan or her daughter a duty to repair the broken gate. The district court granted Long’s motion for summary judgment after declining to extend premises liability to an injury that occurred on property adjacent to Long’s property. Duncan filed a motion for reconsideration, which the district court denied. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court found the district court correctly held that Long did not owe K.R. a duty of care to protect against an injury that occurred on adjacent property. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in Long's favor. View "Duncan v. Long" on Justia Law
Goreham v. Martins
In this personal injury action, the Supreme Judicial Court held that Tenant was not entitled to personal injury damages based on Landlord's failure keep the driveway reasonably free of snow and ice.Tenant was severely injured when he slipped and fell on ice in the driveway adjacent to the premises he rented. A jury found Landlords negligent for failing to exercise reasonable care in keeping the driveway free of ice. However, the jury rendered a verdict of no liability, finding that Tenant was comparatively negligent and more responsible for the injury than Landlords. Based on the jury's finding, the judge found Landlords not liable on Tenant's additional claims alleging breach of the common-law implied warranty of habitability and violation of the statutory covenant of quiet enjoyment. Tenant appealed, arguing that he should recover personal injury damages on his remaining claims because the jury found Landlords negligent. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) a tenant may not be awarded personal injury damagers on a claim for breach of the implied warranty of habitability arising from a landlord's failure to keep common areas reasonably free of snow and ice; and (2) in this case, Tenant may not recover personal injury damages under the statutory covenant of quiet enjoyment. View "Goreham v. Martins" on Justia Law