A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Commercial Property Landlord Not Responsible for Injury of Tenant’s Invitee

By on March 9, 2018 in Liability with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Ben Jimenez was employed as a truck driver by Atlantic Freight Systems, Inc. (“AFS”) when he slipped and fell in the company yard during the course of his employment. The Defendants Stephen Powell and Concetta Powell (“Powells”) owned the commercial property where the accident occurred and leased the entire premises to their corporate entity Defendant SMP Inc., a trucking company engaged in the transportation of freight by truck.  AFS supplied tractor trailer operators to SMP. The issue in Jimenez v. Powell, 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 375 (App. Div. Feb. 20, 2018), was whether the Powells had any liability for the plaintiff’s accident because they had relinquished all control for the property to SMP pursuant to a lease between SMP and the Powells.

Pursuant to the lease agreement, the Powells leased the entire premises to SMP for a period of 20 years. The agreement required the tenant (SMP) to maintain the property and pay for all repairs, replacements and damages caused by the tenant or the tenant’s visitors. The Powells did not retain any control over the property after signing the agreement.

The Powells moved for summary judgment, asking for a dismissal, arguing that they had no liability for the plaintiff’s injury because they had relinquished all control and responsibility to SMP as per the lease. The trial judge agreed and granted their motion.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the Powells should remain responsible because a commercial landlord owes a duty to its invitees. Further, plaintiff claimed that the court should consider whether “basic fairness” required the imposition of a duty.

The Appellate Division found that, based upon prior case law, a landlord is not responsible for an injury suffered by a commercial tenant’s employee on the leased premises “due to a lack of proper maintenance or repair, when the lease unquestionably places responsibility for such maintenance or repair solely upon the tenant.” There are two exceptions to this rule: “(1) a landlord is responsible to use reasonable care with regard to portions of the leased premises which are ‘not demised and remain in the landlord’s control [,]’” and “(2) a landlord’s covenant to repair gives rise to a duty to the tenant.”

The Court noted that neither of these exceptions applied to this case. The lease granted the tenant exclusive control and possession of the premises and the landlord retained no duty to perform repairs. Hence, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial court ruling and affirmed the summary judgment in favor of the Powells.

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Betsy G. Ramos

About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

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