The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 13, 2014

Ohio Supreme Court rules on landlords

The Columbus Dispatch

— Ohio landlords have the same obligation to their tenants’ guests as they do to the tenants themselves to keep their premises safe and sanitary, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Paul E. Pfeifer said, “a landlord owes to a tenant’s guest the same duty that the landlord owes a tenant. Thus, a landlord owes a tenant, and therefore the tenant’s guest, the duty to keep all common areas of the premises in a safe and sanitary condition” as required by Ohio law.

The lawsuit stems from injuries suffered by Lauren Mann in June 2007, when she was 16. After leaving a friend’s second-floor apartment around 11 p.m. in a building owned by Northgate Investors, she had to walk down a stairwell that was dark because the light fixtures were not working. She lost her balance at the bottom of the stairs and stumbled through a glass panel next to the exit door.

A lawsuit filed on her behalf in October 2010 was thrown out by a Franklin County trail court, whose decision was reversed by the county appeals court.

However, the Franklin County appellate decision conflicted with one by another appeals court, so the Supreme Court agreed to consider the dispute.

The local case now returns to the trial court, where Mann’s lawyers still must prove her injuries were caused by the landlord’s negligence.

Northgate had argued that there was no evidence that it had breached a duty of care to Mann. The landlord contended that darkness is an open and obvious danger and that the owner has no duty to warn an invitee of open and obvious dangers, since those dangers are so obvious that business owners may reasonably expect their invitees to discover the hazard and take appropriate actions to protect themselves against it.