Trujack v. Mantone

A-3423-96T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1998) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: April 15, 1998

LEASES; LIABILITY—A landlord has no liability to invitees for injuries they sustain on portions of the premises leased to and controlled by its tenant. This is true with respect to conditions which arise after demise of the premises and with respect to patent conditions which antedate the demise.

A car dealer’s employee slipped and fell on ice in the parking lot of the car dealer’s leased premises. The employee sued the landlord for damages, arguing that because the patch of ice on which he fell was immediately adjacent to the public sidewalk such that he fell onto the sidewalk, the landlord had a nondelegable duty to remove the ice and make the area safe. The employee also argued that the absence of a gutter and leader directing water from the roof away from the parking lot caused the ice to collect in the parking lot. This condition existed prior to the car dealer’s tenancy. Under the lease between the car dealer and its landlord, it was the dealer’s responsibility to maintain the premises. The Law Division dismissed the complaint on a motion for summary judgment, finding that the accident occurred in the parking lot, of which the landlord had neither retained control nor agreed to maintain.

The Appellate Division first cited cases holding that a commercial lessor is liable for the condition of the sidewalk adjacent to its property and cannot escape liability by agreeing that the tenant will have the duty of maintaining the premises. Vasquez v. Mansol Realty Assoc., 280 N.J. Super. 234 (App. Div. 1995). However, the Court held that the employee cannot rely on this holding because the ice was located directly on the demised premises. The Court then held that neither the absence of a gutter and leader nor the presence of the ice were latent conditions on the premises and that the employee was an invitee on the premises. Under New Jersey law, a lessor has no liability to invitees for injuries sustained on premises controlled by the tenant, whether the condition complained of existed prior or subsequent to the tenancy. The Appellate Division upheld the dismissal. Although it seems the employee was trying to establish a new theory of “adjacent to sidewalk” liability for commercial landlords, recovery was sought on the theory that certain duties in a lease clause are not delegable and impose an affirmative duty on a landlord to act. The decision shows that a landlord is not negligent simply because it owns land, and that responsibility for maintenance of premises is based on control.