Oftentimes owners of commercial or residential properties feel they can avoid responsibility for substantial damages in a premises liability claim made against them because of the acts or omissions by people they hired to conduct maintenance, repair, construction, etc. on their property. The property owner against whom a personal injury claim is being made that holds this mindset is making a grave mistake. While it is true, according to Proposition 51 (see How Prop 51 Impacts Your Personal Injury Claim), that a defendant cannot be held responsible for non-economic damages (e.g., pain and suffering) attributable to another person/entity, Proposition 51’s ‘insulation’ does not extend to non-delegable duties. What this means, in a nutshell, is that if a property owner has a duty (e.g., to maintain, inspect, repair dangerous conditions on his property), he cannot delegate or transfer that duty onto another person or entity, and thus avoid liability when someone is injured on his land. Example: Landowner owns a commercial complex where the accident victim was injured after she tripped and fell on a hole in the parking lot. The landowner hired an asphalt company to re-pave the asphalt a year before the victim’s fall. The asphalt company failed to level the ground before pouring the asphalt and as a result, holes and cracks developed. The landowner is sued for failing to maintain the parking lot in a reasonably safe condition and is accused of failing to inspect the premises for dangerous conditions and failing to repair those conditions. Even if the jury finds that the asphalt company is, say, 50% responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries, the landowner is legally mandated to cover 100% of the accident victim’s non-economic damages. As the captain of his ship, the landowner will always be fully responsible for the victim’s economic (e.g., medical bills, lost wages, etc.) and non-economic damages and cannot seek payment contribution from someone else (who may be found responsible for causing the injuries as well) by arguing Proposition 51. The case on point is Brown vs. George Pepperdine Foundation (1943) where the court held, “The duty which a possessor of land owes to others to put and maintain it in reasonably safe condition is nondelegable. If an independent contractor, no matter how carefully selected, is employed to perform it, the possessor is answerable for harm caused by the negligent failure of his contractor to put or maintain the buildings and structures in reasonably safe condition, irrespective of whether the contractor’s negligence lies in his incompetence, carelessness, inattention or delay.” Another case on point (citing the Pepperdine case) is Koepnick vs. Kashiwa Fudosan America, Inc. In Koepnick, the premises liability victim was injured in an elevator on the property of Kashiwa. The jury found that the Kashiwa was 75% responsible for the victim’s injuries. Kashiwa argued that it should only be responsible for 75% of the victim’s non-economic damages under Proposition 51. The victim argued that Kashiwa owed the victim a non-delegable duty, and as such, is responsible for 100% of his non-economic damages. The trial court and court of appeals agreed with the victim and Kashiwa was held responsible for the victim’s entire non-economic damages. If you have suffered injury on the property of another through no fault of your own, contact our premises liability attorney today for a free consultation.
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