Mann v. Northgate Investors, LLC – Landlord Premise Liability

A recent case heard by the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the legal principle that holds landlords have a statutory duty to maintain safe conditions on their properties, extended to both tenants and guests of tenants, and that breaches of that duty may constitute negligence and grounds for legal liability.
stairs.jpg
Rock Hill premise liability lawyers know that the same principal is outlined in South Carolina, where business owners as well as private landowners can be held liable for a wide range of injuries, including slip-and-fall accidents, swimming pool drownings and even third-party criminal acts.

In the case of Mann v. Northgate Investors, LLC, the plaintiffs alleged that the landlord negligently failed to maintain adequate lighting on the premises, and that the plaintiff suffered injury relating to a fall on the property as a result.

This case unfolded back in 2007. At that time, the plaintiff was just 16-years-old and was visiting a friend, who was a tenant at the apartment. her friend resided on the second floor of the building. As the plaintiff exited the apartment around 11 p.m., she had to walk down two flights of stairs with a landing between them. The hallway was dark, both because it was night and there was lighting. The existing light figures were not operational.

She made it to the bottom of the stairs, but at the last step, she mistakenly thought there would be another step. She stumbled forward, through a glass panel next to an exit door, sustaining serious injury.

She filed a lawsuit in 2010 alleging negligent failure to maintain adequate lighting for safe egress from the building at night, which created a danger to both residents and guests.

The landlord responded by filing a motion for a summary judgment, asserting he had not breached any duty of care to the plaintiff, who was an invitee to the property. The duty owed would be ordinary care of property maintenance, the landlord stated, and that duty was met. It was further argued that darkness is an obvious danger, and that business owners could reasonably expect invitees to recognize the danger and take appropriate action to protect themselves.

The plaintiff countered that the state’s landlord-tenant act required the landlord to keep the common areas of the premises in fit, habitable condition.

However, the trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant, indicating that because the plaintiff was not a tenant but a business invitee, the landlord owed her only a duty of ordinary care, further accepting his argument that the darkness of the staircase was an open and obvious hazard, negating the duty of ordinary care.

That ruling was appealed, and the appellate court reversed that finding, holding that tenants’ guests are entitled to the same protections as tenants. However, the court certified the question to the state supreme court, as it acknowledge this finding conflicted with that of another state appellate court.

The state supreme court determined that a landlord is in fact liable for injuries suffered by tenant guests when that injury is proximately caused by the landlord’s failure to fulfill the duties it normally owes to tenants.

Contact our Rock Hill, South Carolina premise liability lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Mann v. Northgate Investors, LLC, Feb. 12, 2014, Ohio Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
South Carolina Premise Liability Claims Stemming From Crime, Jan. 14, 2014, Rock Hill Premise Liability Lawyer Blog

Contact Information