Who Is Responsible for a Dangerous Condition Located in a Multi-Tenant Commercial Business Center?

January 30, 2014

Premises liability law can often be complex, especially when there are several parties involved. The Law Office of Randolph H. Wolf represents a client that was injured when he sustained serious injuries after he fell into a sinkhole located in the parking lot of a multi-tenant commercial business center. The sinkhole was located in the loading dock area directly behind one business, let’s call them “Business A” Another business, “Business B,” however, had frequently utilized the area in question as well. Business B., in fact, had directed our client, a crane mechanic, to go this specific area on the day of the accident in order repair a crane that was located there. Both Business A and Business B were leasing the premises.

Randolph H. Wolf filed suit against Business A, Business B, and the owner of the parking lot. Soon thereafter, Business B moved to dismiss the claims against it on the grounds that it was not responsible for maintaining the area in which the client’s injury occurred. Business B argued that they could not be liable because they did not own or have responsibility to repair or maintain the property in question and the accident occurred in an area outside its unit. Neither ownership nor control is the sole consideration, however.

In Nielsen v. Wal-Mart Store No. 2171, 429 N.J. Super. 251 (App. Div. 2013), a case factually similar, the Appellate Division considered whether defendant Walmart was liable for failing to warn the plaintiff of a dangerous condition in an area of the parking lot that the developer was contractually required to repair and maintain. The plaintiff sustained serious injury when he fell in the plaza. The plaintiff was at the site on behalf of his employer, who Walmart had retained to exterminate rodents. In the course of setting out rodent traps, Walmart directed the plaintiff to the exterior area around the outside of Walmart’s unit, which was owned and maintained by the developer.

In finding that Walmart had a duty to protect the plaintiff from the accident, the court noted that a business should be familiar with the area outside of its unit as well as in other areas that its customers/invitees might reasonably use. The court also noted that Walmart directed plaintiff to use the unit’s perimeter, and it was while he was following that direction that plaintiff encountered the area in which he was injured. Finally, the court found that Walmart had a remedy: if Walmart was required to compensate for an injury that occurred on the developer’s property, it had a right to seek indemnification from the developer. Thus, the court concluded that the relationship between the parties, the nature of the risks, and fairness to the plaintiff warranted Walmart being responsible for dangerous condition, even though the developer was contractually responsible for maintaining the area.

Although factually similar, we believe that the facts of our case provide even more support for a finding that Business B is liable. The lease in our case could be construed to find that Business B was indeed responsible for maintaining the area in question. As can bee seen, determining liability in these instances is a fact-intensive process. If you were injured as have questions regarding who may be responsible, contact Randolph H. Wolf today to discuss your case.

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