Absentee Landlord Liable for Hazards on Adjacent Property
What Happened: A call center employee who stopped by the office to pick up her paycheck after sunset got run over by a city bus and died. Her estate sued the call center and landlord for negligence. The defendants denied owing the victim a duty of care because the accident occurred on city property adjacent to the call center. You can’t reasonably expect us to install safety measures on a public roadway we don’t control, they argued. And, the landlord added, even if there were such a duty to ensure the safety of adjacent property, I wouldn’t be liable because I’m an absentee landlord. The lower court agreed and dismissed the case without a trial.
Ruling: The New Mexico appeals court reversed the lower court and allowed the case to go to trial.
Reasoning: The bad news for the landlord, tenant, and others sued for premises liability negligence in New Mexico is that in 2014, the state Supreme Court ruled (in Rodriguez v. Del Sol Shopping Center Associates., L.P., 2014-NMSC-014, ¶¶ 1, 19, 326 P.3d 465) that owners and occupiers of land have a broad duty to protect visitors who come and go from the property from dangerous conditions, including those that are neither obvious nor foreseeable. The hazard in this case was darkness. Turning to the landlord, the court acknowledged that landlords not in possession don’t control the property and are thus not liable for keeping it in safe condition. However, the landlord in this case did retain a degree of control because the lease granted it the right to re-enter to perform inspections, alterations, and repairs. Result: The landlord did owe the victim a duty of care.
- Chavez v. Convergys Corp., 2023 N.M. App. LEXIS 45, 2023 WL 4267499