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Landlord Responsible for Burn from Uncovered Radiator (NJ)

April 27, 2018

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <em>J.H. v. R&amp;M</em> <em>Tagliareni, LLC,</em> the New Jersey Appellate Division analyzed whether a landlord owned a duty to protect a minor from a hot and uncovered radiator where it was part of the building’s entire heating system.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Plaintiff is a minor who sustained third-degree burns on his head, right cheek, and left arm while sleeping next to an uncovered radiator in defendant’s apartment building. The radiator was controlled by an on and off shut-off valve at its base inside the apartment unit. The heat flowing into the radiator could only be manually turned on or off at the shut-off valve and the unit did not possess a thermostat to regulate the amount of heat emitting from radiator. An investigation of the radiator revealed that it became unbearable to touch within two minutes of turning the shut-off valve to the on position. Plaintiff’s mother, on behalf of her minor son, subsequently filed suit against the landlord contending that the landlord was in control of the apartment’s heating system and failed to protect her son.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">At the conclusion of discovery, the landlord moved for summary judgment arguing that it did not have notice of the allegedly dangerous condition. The trial court granted defendant’s motion holding that the landlord had no constructive or actual notice of the uncovered radiator and therefore violated no duty to plaintiff. In granting defendant’s motion, the trial court found that the tenants had exclusive control over the radiator’s shut-off valve. The trial court also reasoned that the landlord had not received any complaints of excessively hot radiators, was not aware that a young child was living in plaintiff’s unit, and did not violate any applicable codes.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s decision and held that the landlord owed a duty of care under a regulation requiring a building’s heating systems (i.e. the radiator) to be covered. The Appellate Division found that the shut-off valve was not sufficient to give the tenants control over the unit’s heating system because there was no control in actual temperature. The Appellate Division found the shut-off valve especially impractical when the tenants were sleeping. The Appellate Division also found that a simple radiator cover would have been enough to protect plaintiff from the burns that he sustained and that the landlord had notice of the dangerous condition because it delivered the unit to the tenants for rent.</p>
Thanks to Ken Eng for his contribution to this post and please write to <a href="mailto:">Mike Bono</a> with any questions.


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