A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Landlord Found Not Liable for Tenant’s Injury on Stairs Due to Known Crack in Stair Tread

By on December 13, 2019 in Liability with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Mary Giraldi leased a single family home from defendants Michael and Susan Cervini. After living there for four years, she caught her foot in a gap between the porch stair treads and fell. In Giraldi v. Cervini, 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2183 (App. Div. Oct. 24, 2019), the issue was whether the defendant landlords owed any duty to their tenant with respect to a known condition of their steps.

Plaintiff had testified that she was aware of the half-inch wide crack in one of the stair treads when she moved in. She informed the defendants of this possible defect when she moved in but they never fixed the step.

After living there for four years, one night, Plaintiff was descending from the porch and her foot caught in the gap in the stair tread, causing her to lose her balance and fall to the ground. Thereafter, she filed a personal injury suit against her landlords, claiming negligence and failure to warn of a hazardous condition on the rented property. After the parties completed discovery, the defendants filed for a summary judgment, which the trial court judge granted, dismissing the lawsuit.

Upon appeal, the plaintiff argued that the landlords should be held responsible for her injury from the dangerous condition of the stair. The Appellate Division noted that a landlord is not liable to a tenant for a dangerous condition of which the tenant was aware prior to the occurrence of the harm.

Here, the facts showed that the tenant was aware of the condition of the stair and the gap in the stair treads was obvious. Plaintiff tried to argue that it was impossible for her to realize the seriousness of the hole in the porch steps and she could not be aware of the width of the hole between the step treads.

The Appellate Division rejected that argument, stating that: “Having used the front steps over the course of four years, plaintiff is hard pressed to argue that it was impossible for her to appreciate the seriousness of the gap, and at the same time argue that both the condition and the risk were known to the landlords or were reasonably discoverable by them.” Thus, the Court agreed with the trial court that the landlords owed no duty to the plaintiff as to this fall. Hence, the Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s order, dismissing the case.


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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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