New Jersey Appeals Court Limits Commercial Tenant’s Duty of Care


November 21, 2012
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A New Jersey appeals court recently ruled that a commercial tenant’s duty of care does not extend to a shared parking lot that the landlord is contractually obligated to maintain.

Kandrac v. Marrazzo's Market involved a slip and fall that occurred at The Shoppes at Foxmoor in Robbinsville. The plaintiff had left Marrazzo's Market and entered an adjacent parking area when she tripped and fell on an area of uneven pavement. The plaintiff filed a complaint against Marrazzo's and Foxmoor, alleging that their negligence caused her injuries. Marrazzo's and Foxmoor subsequently filed claims against the other for contribution and indemnification.

Marrazzo's lease with Foxmoor Associates included the following provision: “The LESSOR covenants and agrees that it shall maintain the common areas of the shopping center in good operating condition and repair . . . [and t]he LESSOR shall resurface the sidewalk, parking and driveway areas when the same shall be reasonably necessary together with the restriping of the parking areas.” The lease defined "common areas" as "employees' parking areas, service roads, loading facilities, sidewalks, and customers' parking areas[.]"

In light of the above lease provision, the Appellate Division recently rejected Foxmoor’s argument that Marrazzo's owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. "[A]s a general rule, when a commercial tenant in a multi-tenant shopping center has no control or contractual obligation to maintain a parking lot shared with other tenants, the common law does not impose a duty upon the tenant to do so," the opinion states. The court noted that the lease “squarely assigns the duty to maintain the area where plaintiff was injured to the landlord” and that witness testimony confirmed that the landlord did indeed perform all necessary repairs and maintenance.

The court further reasoned that imposing a duty of care on individual tenants in a multi-tenant commercial property might be counter-productive. Citing Holmes v. Kimco Realty Corp., 598 F.3d 115 (3d Cir. 2010), the Appellate Division agreed that “the extension of such a duty ‘would lead to uncertainty with respect to the areas of the parking lot for which each tenant is responsible’ and ‘encourage 'shotgun' litigation . . . where the customer sued every store at which he had browsed or purchased an item prior to his fall.’”

If you have any questions about this case or other liability issues related to commercial leases, please contact me, Robert Levy, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work.

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As chair of Scarinci Hollenbeck's Litigation Group, Mr. Robert E. Levy concentrates his practice on jury and non-jury trail preparation emphasizing on complex civil and criminal matters that include labor and employment defense, commercial and corporate litigation, criminal litigation and civil rights litigation. Mr. Levy has been in a variety of federal and state courts through out the nation and is a certified civil and criminal trial attorney by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

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