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Bernal v. NL Spencer Kellogg, Inc.

A-6226-96T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1998) (Unpublished)

NEGLIGENCE; SUCCESSORS; LIABILITY—A predecessor owner is not responsible for harm to a subsequent owner or user caused by a dangerous condition unless the condition was concealed or unless the seller failed to disclose the existing condition and the successor owner did not know or have reason to know of the condition.

An explosion in a chemical plant killed an employee of the owner. The owner was a successor to a series of chemical companies that owned and used the chemical plant. The chemical process that allegedly caused the explosion was originally created by one of the earlier owners and thereafter was used by the successor owners. The representatives of the deceased employee propounded a number of personal injury theories by which they thought that the successor owners should be liable. One of those theories, set forth in Restatement (Second) of Torts sections 352 and 353 (1965) was that a seller of land who conceals or fails to disclose to its buyer any condition, whether natural or artificial, which involves unreasonable risks to persons on the land is subject to liability to the buyer and others upon the land. The exception to that rule is that a seller of land is not subject to liability for physical harm caused to its buyer or others while upon the land, by reason of any dangerous condition, whether natural or artificial, after the buyer has taken possession. Consequently, the general rule expressed in the Restatement is that a predecessor owner is not responsible for harm to a subsequent owner or user caused by a dangerous condition unless the condition was concealed or unless the seller failed to disclose the existing condition and the successor owner did not know or have reason to know of the condition. There being no evidence in the record that any of the prior owners concealed the dangers inherent in the chemical process, the Appellate Division concurred with the lower court and concluded that no legal basis existed for imposing liability upon any of the predecessor owners.


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