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Claim Arising from Fall through a Hatch Door Lands Flat on its Face (NJ)

May 2, 2019

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<p style="text-align: justify;">The New Jersey Appellate Court recently reviewed a trial court decision granting summary judgment in favor of defendants in <em><a href="">Mastrangelo v. Khanna</a></em>. Plaintiff Mastrangelo, an employee of Metuchen Cardiology, fell through an open hatch door within the office and sustained multiple injuries.  Dr. Sunil Khanna, plaintiff's direct boss, was the sole owner of both Metuchen Cardiology and Khanna Realty.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Khanna Realty had entered into a triple net lease of the building with Metuchen Cardiology. The lease provided that the property was “completely assigned to” Metuchen Cardiology, which was the sole tenant and occupied the entire structure.  The lease gave Khanna Realty no duty or control with respect to the inspection, repair, or maintenance of the leased premises. Additionally, the lease stated that Khanna Realty is not responsible for any damage to any person arising from any defect in the building.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">There was a hatch in the floor of the kitchen area of the building. The hatch was covered by a door, which, when removed, provided access to the basement. Plaintiff accidentally stepped into the open hatch and fell into the basement. Although plaintiff had brought claims against Metuchen Cardiology and Dr. Khanna, those claims were dismissed leaving Khanna Realty as the only remaining defendant.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Khanna Realty moved for summary judgment, arguing it had no duty to inspect, repair, or maintain the building and owed no duty to plaintiff. Plaintiff counter-argued that Dr. Khanna’s common ownership of Khanna Realty and Metuchen Cardiology negated the provisions of the lease insulating Khanna Realty from responsibility for the inspection, repair, and maintenance of the building. The trial court found that Khanna Realty and Metuchen Cardiology were distinct entities that executed a lease with an “effective delegation of duties between landlord and tenant in which the tenant retained control over the subject property.” The court ultimately concluded that Khanna Realty owed no duty to plaintiff with respect to condition or use of the hatch. The appellate court, upon review, agreed with the trial court’s decision, stating that there was a valid lease between the parties that clearly delegated the responsibilities to the tenant, thereby establishing that Khanna Realty had no duty to inspect, repair or maintain the building at which plaintiff was injured.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Steve Kim for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.</p>

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