Is Landlord Liable for Personal Injuries Suffered by Third Parties on Leased Property?
SITUATION: A tenant leases property to operate a car wash. The lease requires the tenant to keep the property in good repair. The actual language:
The Tenant shall keep the Demised premises in good condition and repair . . . the tenant, at its sole cost and expense, will take good care of the Demised Premises . . . and will keep the same in good order and condition and make all necessary repairs thereto, interior and exterior, ordinary and extraordinary, foreseen and unforeseen.
The lease also bans the tenant from making any substantial alterations to the property without the landlord’s prior written consent.
While working at the property, one of the tenant’s employees trips on a loose brick and suffers serious injuries. He can’t sue the tenant because the injury is work related and thus subject to the workers’ comp bar on workers’ lawsuits against their employers. So, he sues the landlord for negligently failing to maintain the property in a safe condition.
QUESTION: Does the employee have a valid negligence claim against the landlord?
A. Yes, because failing to fix the loose brick was a clear act of negligence.
B. Yes, because the landlord’s right to approve substantial alterations demonstrates its control over the property.
C. No, because the landlord wasn’t in possession or control of the property.
D. No, because the landlord isn’t responsible for the health and safety of a tenant’s employee.
CORRECT ANSWER IS C. The landlord can’t be held liable for negligence since it retained neither possession nor control of the property.
EXPLANATION: Bringing negligence lawsuits against landlords for personal injuries suffered on leased property has become a multibillion-dollar industry. To win such a lawsuit, the victim must prove four things:
- The landlord owed the victim a duty of reasonable care;
- The landlord violated that duty;
- The violation of the duty directly caused the victim to suffer the injury; and
- The victim incurred damages as a result of the injury.
In the context of landlord liability for injuries suffered on property leased by a tenant, the first prong is usually decisive. Question: Do landlords owe a duty of care to third-party accident victims? Answer: Yes, but only for the parts of the property they actually possess and control. In this scenario, which is based on numerous cases from around the country, the lease provision requiring the tenant to keep the property in good repair showed that the tenant and not the landlord had control over the property. As a result, the landlord didn’t have a duty of care to the employee and C is the right answer.
WHY WRONG ANSWERS ARE WRONG
A is wrong because the question of whether the landlord committed negligence—that is, violated its duty of care by failing to fix the loose brick—is irrelevant if the landlord didn’t have such a duty in the first place. And because the employee couldn’t prove the landlord had control over the property, his negligence claim was DOA.
B is wrong because courts have repeatedly held that the mere right to approve substantial alterations is not enough to prove that a landlord had control over the property for purposes of negligence liability.
D is wrong because landlords are responsible for the health and safety of third persons, including a tenant’s employee, in the parts of the premises they control. The reason the landlord in this case wasn’t liable for the employee’s injuries is that the tenant was in control over the premises in which they occurred.