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Plaintiff Falls Short in Premises Liability Matter (PA)

January 15, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;">The Pennsylvania Superior Court provided important provides insight into the potential arguments that arise when a plaintiff is injured in a client’s rental property. In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Monica-Sprouse.pdf">Monica Sprouse</a> v. Daniel Keller and Kim Keller, &amp; Donald Neill and Re/Max Action</em>, plaintiff Monica Sprouse  unsuccessfully appealed the trial court’s decision which granted defendants motions for summary judgment. At the time of the incident, Sprouse was residing in a rental home owned by the Kellers and Re/Max was managing the rental between the two parties. Sprouse alleged she tripped while walking up the stairs of the home due to an incomplete railing and sustained injuries and claimed the defendants were negligent for not keeping the stairs free of defects. The Kellers argued they did not owe Sprouse a duty because they were landlords out-of-possession at the time of her alleged fall. Re/Max averred they were also not liable to Sprouse because they were not responsible for the maintenance of the property. The defendants motions heard before the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas were granted and Sprouse appealed the decision.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Sprouse argued that while landlords are generally not liable to injured tenants, there was an exception in this case, citing the case <em>Goodman v. Corn Exchange National Bank &amp; Trust Co.,</em> 200 A. 642 (Pa. 1938) and argued that a landlord can be liable if he failed to make repairs after notice and “reasonable opportunity” to repair the alleged condition. According to Sprouse, Kellers visited the home many times and should have known about the alleged dangerous condition. In making the decision, the Court discussed how absent a specific lease provision to the contrary, a landlord is typically under no obligation to repair any defects or confirm the rental’s fitness for occupants. Also, the tenant rents the property as is at the time of rental. With a landlord out-of-possession, he may be liable if he hid the condition and the injured party would not have known or discovered it or if he knew or should have known about the alleged condition and he leased the property for a public purpose and the renter was unlikely to correct the condition. <em>Cholewka v. Gelso,</em> 193 A.3d 1023, 1031 (Pa. Super. 2018).</p>
Although the Kellers were considered landlords out-of-possession, the staircase railing was in the same condition when Sprouse moved in as when she fell. Additionally, the Court found <em>Goodman </em>did not apply here because unlike the plaintiff in that case, Sprouse was not a business invitee—in which case the landlord has a duty to repair the allegedly dangerous condition.  Thus, the appeal was denied in its entirety and the Plaintiffs’ case dismissed.

Thanks to Gabi Outlaw for her contribution to this post.  Should you have any questions, please contact <a href="mailto:tbracken@wcmlaw.com">Thomas Bracken</a>.

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