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Landlord Found Not Liable For Tenant’s Fall On Interior Stairway of Residence

By on January 28, 2022 in Duty of Care, Negligence with 0 Comments

Plaintiffs Charles and Deborah Stenger sued their landlord, defendant Bulent Koroglu, for Charles Stenger’s trip and fall that occurred on the bottom step on the stairway to plaintiffs’ leased residence.  They allege that their landlord failed to warn them of a latent defect in the stairway.  The issue in Stenger v. Koroglu, 2022 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 90 (App. Div. Jan. 24, 2022) was whether the defendant landlord could be held responsible for Charles Stenger’s injury suffered in the fall.

Plaintiffs leased a single-family residence from defendant and moved in on September 15, 2014.  They were the exclusive tenants of the landlord, Bulent Koroglu.  They lived there for more than two years until Charles Stenger fell on January 19, 2017.  The accident resulted from a trip and fall that occurred on the bottom step of the stairway to plaintiffs’ leased residence.  Plaintiffs used this interior stairway on a daily basis, going up and down the stairs “hundreds, if not thousands of times . . . without incident.”  Additionally, they routinely cleaned the stairway’s handrails and even painted the risers of the stairs on multiple occasions.  The landlord, however, made no alterations or repairs to the stairway during the tenancy period.

Plaintiff Charles Stenger was injured while descending the stairway.  It was his testimony that his right foot was on the second step but “it just didn’t fit right” and his left leg “missed the bottom step tread and jammed on the foyer,” which caused him to fall.

Plaintiffs obtained an expert who opined that the stairway had variations in the height and width of the stair treads.  Further, the expert opined that these variations violated the building code and constituted a “hidden defect.”   The plaintiffs failed to present any evidence, however, to suggest that the defendant landlord “either affirmatively or constructively concealed the alleged dangerous condition.”

At the trial court level, the defendant landlord filed for a summary judgment dismissal.  The trial court judge granted that motion, finding that the plaintiffs “were aware of the condition of the stairs and any associated risk of harm posed by that condition before the accident.”  The trial court judge also found that under the lease, the plaintiffs were exclusively responsible for the stairway’s upkeep. 

Upon appeal, the Appellate Division first considered whether the defendant landlord owed a duty to the plaintiffs.  The duty owed by a landlord to a tenant has evolved over the years.  The Court noted that “the critical inquiry remains whether the lessee was aware of the dangerous condition that caused injury.” 

Here, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial court decision.  The Appellate Division focused on the critical inquiry as to whether plaintiffs were aware of the “alleged dangerous condition.”  It noted that the undisputed facts showed that the defendant landlord had not entered the premises at any point during plaintiffs’ tenancy, that the plaintiffs were solely responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the stairway, even painting the risers in the recent past and, finally, “plaintiffs had utilized the subject stairway hundreds if not thousands of times throughout their tenancy without incident, as it was the apartment’s sole means of egress.”   Thus, the Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s decision, granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant landlord, dismissing the lawsuit.

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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 30 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.

For the years 2020-2023, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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