Pagelsdorf was helping the Blattners move some heavy
objects out of their apartment via the balcony. He leaned on the railing
and it gave way. He fell and was injured.
Pagelsdorf sued Mahnke, who owned the apartment building.
The wooden railing was rotten, but this was not apparent
to the eye.
As part of the lease agreement, Mahnke was responsible
for maintenance, but only for repairing known or reported problems.
Btw, Mahnke was insured by Safeco Insurance, which is why their name was on the lawsuit.
The Trial Court found for Mahnke, Pagelsdorf appealed.
In general, a landlord is not liable for injuries to his
tenants and their visitors resulting from defects in the premises.
The lease effectively transfers the liability to the
renter, since they have control and possession of the property.
The Trial Court found that Mahnke owed no duty to
discover dangers of which he was unaware.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The Appellate Court found that there is an exception to
the nonliability of landlords when they are contracted to repair defects
to the property, or if the area remains in the landlord's control (such
as the lobby).
But that doesn't apply here.
The Court made an arbitrary decision to abandon
the traditional rule of leasor nonliability and decided it was better
public policy to adopt the rule that a landlord had a duty to exercise
ordinary care in the maintenance of the premises.
The case was remanded for a jury to decide if ordinary
care would have discovered that the railing was rotten.