Daily Development for
Wednesday, September 25, 1996

by: Patrick A. Randolph, Jr.
Professor of Law
UMKC School of Law

LANDLORD/TENANT; LANDLORD'S LIABILITY FOR INJURIES TO TENANT'S INVITEES; TENANT- CREATED CONDITIONS: A landlord may be liable for defective condition of building constructed and operated by tenant when condition contributes to foreseeable injury to tenant's invitees. Lopez v. Friedman Bros. Inv. Co., 52 Cal. Rptr. 2d 821 (Cal. App. 1996).

Landlord leased some farm property to tenants over a substantial period of time. The lease permitted tenants to construct a small building from which they could market some of their produce to passers-by, and tenants had built a small grocery store with a concrete floor. The store had operated without apparent incident for many years. Plaintiff alleged she was injured when she slipped on a grape on the floor and fell. Plaintiff claimed that landlord was liable for her injury because the floor was defective in that it was unreasonably dangerous when taking into account that it might regularly have water and produce strewn across it.

The trial court granted summary judgment for landlord.

Held: Reversed. The landlord had the duty to bring forward evidence to show that it was not responsible for an unreasonably dangerous floor. The court commented that, for instance, the floor might have been of such a color that it would be difficult to detect grapes lying there.

The landlord had reserved the right to approve any construction on the premises and the right to enter inspect the premises at any time. Where the landlord has the power to so control the tenant's activities, and the premises are known to be open to the public, the court concluded that the landlord has a duty of care to see to it that the premises are safe for the public.

Given the landlord's duty, the landlord had to bring forward evidence to counter the tenant's allegation that the premises were unreasonably dangerous. As the landlord had not done so, summary judgment was inappropriate.

Comment: Apparently the landlord was not viewed as responsible to see to it that the grapes were picked up. There had been no history of accidents indicating that the tenant was operating a dangerous premises. All the tenant did was make a naked, unsubstantiated allegation that the premises were dangerously designed and that the landlord had the power to control the tenant's conduct. Tenant did not allege that the landlord ever had attempted to review the construction plans or otherwise control the behavior of the tenant.

The editor lacks experience in tort law sufficient to comment on whether these facts would give rise to potential landlord liability in other jurisdictions, but the relationship of the landlord's conduct to the injury here was sufficiently tenuous that the editor thought the case worthy of note.

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