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Gittleman v. Burr Catal, Ltd.

A-4227-02T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD’S LIABILITY—Even though the general rule provides that the landlord is not liable for injuries arising out of improper maintenance of leased property where a tenant has exclusive control over the property, a landlord may retain liability if the tenant was acting as the landlord’s agent when it got reimbursed by the landlord for repairs or if the landlord prepared the repair or maintenance specifications.

A man sued the landlord of the property where his job was located for injuries he sustained when he fell in the parking lot. He claimed that he slipped and fell on ice that had formed on the lot, allegedly from improper paving. The injured man contended that the landlord was liable under a lease provision authorizing the landlord to enter the premises and make necessary repairs if its tenant failed to do so. The landlord argued that it was not liable because the lease agreement provided that the tenant was responsible for all maintenance and repairs. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the landlord and the plaintiff appealed.

The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s ruling and remanded the case. On appeal, the injured man argued that the landlord should have been held responsible for the injuries due to its negligent performance of capital improvements. He also argued that the lower court improperly granted summary judgment because there were genuine issues of material facts in dispute. The Appellate Division ruled that these included questions of who controlled the premises at the time of the injury and who was responsible for the paving of the lot. The Court noted several facts that indicated an overlap in ownership of the property, pointing out that the landlord held a seventy-five percent interest in the tenant. There was also an issue as to whether the tenant may have been acting as an agent or servant of the landlord because the landlord reimbursed the tenant for paving the parking lot. The Court further held that it was unclear if the landlord or the tenant prepared the paving specifications, and that the answer to that question would aid in determining who was responsible for the parking lot. As a result, the Court ruled that it was improper for the lower court to decide these issues of fact by summary judgment and remanded the case.

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