Torts II, Pages 532–534

Pagelsdorf v. Safeco Ins. Co. of America

Supreme Court of Wisconsin, 1979

Judgment:

Reversed and remanded.

Facts:

Defendant owned a two-story, two-family duplex with four balconies: one in the front and one in the back of each flat. Defendant rented the upper unit to the Blattners. Plaintiff was helping Blattner move some furniture when he leaned against the railing of the second-floor balcony. The railing had dryrot and collapsed.

Procedural History:

Trial court put the case to the jury in terms of plaintiff being a licensee of defendant. The jury found by special verdict that defendant had no knowledge of the defective condition of the railing. Judgment was entered on the verdict, dismissing the complaint.

Issue:

What duty does a landlord have toward his tenant's invitee who is injured as a result of defective premises?

(Old) Rule:

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A landlord is not liable for injuries to his tenants and their visitors resulting from defects in the premises.

Exception:

(Exceptions exist but don't apply to the facts of this case.)

Note:

Abolished in Wisconsin in this case.

Reasoning:

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The modern-day apartment lease is regarded as a contract, not a conveyance. . . . modern social conditions called for judicial recognition of a warranty of habitability implied in an apartment lease

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It would be anomalous indeed to require a landlord to keep his premises in good repair as an implied condition of the lease, yet immunize him from liability for injuries resulting from his failure to do so. We conclude that there is no remaining justification for the landlord's general cloak of common law immunity

Rule/Holding:

A landlord must exercise ordinary care toward his tenant and others on the premises with permission.

Note:

This is the minority rule.