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Liability Won’t Always Fall on the Property Owner in Slip-and-Fall Action (PA)

October 25, 2019

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In <em><a href="">Mary Minch and Joseph Minch v. KDG Rental Inc. et al.</a>,</em> the Pennsylvania Superior Court found that the property owners of a rental property were not liable to the tenant couple after the wife slipped and fell on a substance on the floor.
<p style="text-align: justify;">Plaintiffs Mary and Joseph Minch (“the Minches”) were leasing defendants’, Daniel and Donna Zola’s (“the Zolas”) property on a short-term basis. Defendants owned and leased the house under their corporation, KDG Rentals (“KDG”), and hired a cleaning company (“the Cleaners”) to prepare the home for the Minches visit. The Zolas had only used the Cleaners’ services once before due to a friend’s recommendation. When the Minches arrived at the home, the Cleaners were still there and told the couple that they could enter. Shortly after arriving, Minch slipped and fell on Orange Glo, a cleaning product, while exiting the bathroom and sustained injuries. She subsequently sued the defendants for negligence by vicarious liability, sued KDG Rentals and the cleaners for negligence and sued for loss of consortium for Joseph Minch. The trial court ultimately found against the Cleaners. However, the court granted the Zolas' motion for compulsory nonsuit. The Minches filed an appeal stating the Zolas were vicariously liable for the actions of the Cleaners, the Cleaners were an ostensible agent of the Zolas, and the Zolas negligently hired the cleaners.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Ultimately, the Superior Court was not convinced by the Minches' arguments. The Court found the Zolas to be “landlords out of possession”, which meant that they could not be liable for the injuries of third parties on the property because they did not owe them a duty. There are several exceptions to this rule, such as maintaining control over a dangerous condition, failing to disclose a known danger at the time of possession, negligent repairs, etc. However, these exceptions did not apply in this case. Additionally, the Zolas were not vicariously liable for the Cleaners because the Cleaners were independent contractors. There was no evidence that the Cleaners were employees of the Zolas, as there was no contract, the Zolas did not control how the cleaning was performed, the Zolas received an invoice for the service, the Zolas only used the cleaning services twice, and the Zolas could choose to never use them again.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Tthe Minches also argued that the Cleaners were ostensible agents of KDG and thus KDG could be held liable, even if the Cleaners were independent contractors. The Court dismissed this argument by stating that the Zolas did not present the Cleaners as employees and the fact that the Cleaners allowed the Minches into the home was not indicative of an agency relationship.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Lastly, regarding their negligence arguments, the Court remained unconvinced. The Minches common law negligence claim was not timely presented prior to nonsuit, so the claim was deemed waived. Their negligent hiring argument did not hold up because as previously stated, the Cleaners were independent contractors who were outside of the control of KDG or the Zolas.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Therefore, while Mary Minch certainly suffered an injury, the property owners could not be held liable for negligence simply because the Minches were on their property.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Gabrielle Outlaw for her contribution to this post. Please email <a href="">Vito A. Pinto</a> with any questions.</p>


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