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Maintaining Premises in Safe Condition

Posted by Alan Fassonaki | Mar 15, 2023 | 0 Comments

Property owners and lessors have a legal obligation to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition, for the safety of visitors and invitees. This duty extends to all areas that visitors are expressly or impliedly invited to use and over which property owners exercise actual or apparent control, including common areas used by patrons of several businesses, areas outside the building used by the general public in common with business visitors, and areas of ingress and egress that visitors are implicitly induced to use.

In the case of Danisan v Cardinal Grocery Stores, Inc. (1957) 155 CA2d 833, 837, the court held that a landowner's duty to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition extends to areas within a building used in common by patrons of several businesses. Similarly, in Johnston v De La Guerra Props. (1946) 28 C2d 394, 400, the court held that a landowner's duty extends to areas outside the building used by the general public in common with business visitors, such as a parking lot on adjacent premises. Southland Corp. v Superior Court (1988) 203 CA3d 656, 666 further reinforced this by holding that a landowner's duty extends to an adjacent vacant, unpaved "overflow" parking lot regularly used by store customers.

Furthermore, a landowner must exercise reasonable care in keeping its premises safe and must fulfill that duty by making reasonable inspections of areas open to shoppers. Ortega v Kmart Corp. (2001) 26 C4th 1200, 1203 established this principle, where a customer injured by slipping in spilled milk raised an inference of negligence by showing the area had not been inspected within a reasonable time period. The court held that it was a question of fact for the jury whether a dangerous condition existed long enough to have been discovered and remedied had reasonable care been used.

It is also important to note that a landowner's duty to put and maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition is nondelegable. This means that a landowner cannot avoid liability for harm resulting from negligent construction or maintenance by hiring an independent contractor to perform those tasks. Knell v Morris (1952) 39 C2d 450, 456 established this principle, where a landowner's liability for negligent heater installation could not be avoided by hiring an independent contractor. Koepnick v Kashiwa Fudosan Am., Inc. (2009) 173 CA4th 32 further confirmed this principle with regard to elevator maintenance, while Srithong v Total Inv. Co. (1994) 23 CA4th 721, 726 held that a lessor who employed a roofing company was liable to a lessee's employee burned by hot tar.

Finally, it is important to recognize that a landowner's duty cannot be delegated to tenants or independent contractors. Swanberg v O'Mectin (1984) 157 CA3d 325, 330 held that a landowner's duty to keep shrubs from obstructing the view of an intersection could not be delegated to tenants. This principle is further supported by various annotations, such as Annos, 99 ALR5th 141 (2002), which discusses an owner's, lessee's, or manager's liability for injury or death from the use of automatic passenger elevators, and Annos, 96 ALR3d 1213 (1979), which discusses liability to customers for injury caused by independent contractor's negligent repair or alteration work.

In summary, landowners have many legal obligations and responsibilities to ensure the safety of visitors and invitees on their premises to prevent personal injuries.

About the Author

Alan Fassonaki

What inspired me to practice personal injury law? I was 9 and imagining the win. My mother was driving me to my basketball game. My older sister came along to support me. While on the road, I thought about practice and replayed our team's game-plan in my mind. Suddenly, I hea...


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