Morlin Asset Mgt. v. Murachanian – Commercial Tenant Liability in Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit

When a patron is injured on business property, the injured person may file a premises liability lawsuit. Either the owner or the occupier of the property may be deemed liable for the injuries, depending on the circumstances. bucket

In most cases, it’s the occupier of the property that will be held responsible for injuries that occur on the property, regardless of who the actual owner is. That’s because usually, it’s a question of which party had more control over the area.

Still, there are also sorts of caveats to consider. The recent case of Morlin Asset Mgmt. LP v. Murachanian is an example of that. This was a matter recently before an appellate court in California, and it involved an appeal of summary judgment on two cross-complaints filed by apportionment of fault by a commercial landlord and a management company against a tenant. The landlord and management firm were sued for negligence following a patron’s slip-and-fall injury, and defendants sought to add their tenant to the claim, arguing if anyone was responsible, it was the tenant. 

According to records from the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Eight, plaintiff was an employee of a carpet company that had been hired by the commercial tenant to clean the carpets of his dental suite, owned by defendant landlord. Plaintiff and another employee were sent to the site for work one day in October 2012.

As plaintiff ascended the flight of stairs, he slipped, falling forward and suffering severe injuries. He later sued the landlords of the building, claiming the stairway presented a dangerous condition. It was revealed in this complaint that the tread and risers of the stairs failed to conform to either the industry standard or the building codes.

During discovery, other facts came to light. At the time of plaintiff’s fall, he had been carrying soapy water up the stairs. Some of that water apparently spilled and plaintiff fell face first, striking his jaw and face. The soap in the water made the surface more slippery.

An engineer for the building testified he had told the tenant he needed to be notified when the carpet cleaning crew was coming out so that the hoses could be run properly, as the cleaning company apparently was not properly running the hoses, leading to slip-and-fall hazards. The engineer told the dentist he needed to be told each and every time the cleaning crew was coming.

Following discovery, the landlords filed a cross-complaint against the tenant, arguing his indemnity was equal to theirs.

Tenant subsequently moved for summary judgment on this issue, contending the lease agreement didn’t provide indemnity for plaintiff’s injuries because the injuries didn’t happen on his leased premises, but rather within one of the common areas. Defendants opposed the motion, arguing plaintiff created the condition that caused his own fall and that he was at the time acting as an agent for the tenant.

Because the injury happened on the stairwell, which was undisputedly a common area, trial court granted summary judgment to tenant on the issue of shared liability and awarded tenant $12,000 in legal fees. Defendant landlords appealed, but the appellate panel affirmed.

The court noted that while the accident might not have occurred if tenant hadn’t hired plaintiff’s employer, that doesn’t mean the standard indemnity clause is applicable in the case. The landlord had already conceded it could not pursue indemnity for a defect in the common-area stairway.

Defendants’ arguments may have relevance in terms of plaintiff’s damages, but they do not result in requiring indemnification by tenant.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Morlin Asset Mgmt. LP v. Murachanian , Aug. 8, 2016, California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Eight

More Blog Entries:

Fatal Elevator Accident Kills Guard, Inmate, July 23, 2016, Charlotte Premises Liability Lawyer Blog

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