June 23, 2017

Strict Product Defect

A landlord engaged in the business of leasing dwellings is strictly liable in tort for injuries resulting from a latent defect in the premises when the defect existed at the time the premises were let to the tenant. A personal injury plaintiff may seek to recover damages based upon strict product defect claims.

A landlord is defined as: “He of whom lands or tenements are holden. The owner of an estate in land, or rental property, who has leased it to another person, called the “tenant.” Also called “lessor.” Black’s Law Dictionary (6th Edition).

A defendant cannot be held liable for defective or dangerous conditions of property which it does not own, possess, or control. For example, to establish strict liability, a plaintiff would need to show that defendant owned, possessed, and controlled the premises where the alleged injuries occurred. If defendant had no possession, ownership, or control over the premises where the incident occurred, the defendant would not be liable. This may occur when the premises where the incident occurred were owned by a developer who sold off pieces of ownership based upon time of use. Suppose there were at least 4000 individuals who purchased the pieces of ownership. Pieces of ownership which were not purchased or leased, reverted automatically back to the developer. Then, defendant had no ownership interest whatsoever of the property where the incident occurred. Defendant merely managed the property and assisted in the sale of time shares as an agent for the developer, the true owner. Defendant also acted as an agent for the developer when it leased the units, maintained the premises, and undertook the day-to-day operations. Suppose plaintiff leased one of the rooms. When defendant leased a room to plaintiff, defendant acted under the direction of the developer. Plaintiff had rented a time share from the developer. The room was an unsold time share at the time of the incident. The time share for the room was owned by the developer, not a specific person or defendant. Because defendant was not the owner of the property, plaintiff cannot recover damages based on strict products liability from defendant.

The doctrine of strict liability in tort applies to producing and marketing enterprises responsible for placing products in the stream of commerce. A product is a physical article which results from a manufacturing process. A defect in an article, even if latent, is objectively measurable. A service is no more than direct human action or human performance. Whether that performance is defective is judged by what is reasonable under the circumstances, and depends upon the actor’s skill, judgment, training, knowledge, and experience. Courts have not extended the doctrine of strict liability to transactions whose primary objective is obtaining services. Courts have also declined to apply strict liability where the transaction’s service aspect predominates and any product sale is merely incidental to the providing of the service.

For example, defendant acts as an agent of a developer who was the true owner of the property where a personal injury incident occurred. Defendant leased, maintained, and operated the property for the benefit of the developer. Defendant’s acts constitute a service, not in the business of selling a product. A plaintiff cannot recover damages based on strict product defect claims from defendant.

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