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Western Pennsylvania Office Secures Summary Judgment in Premises Liability Action

May 28, 2021 - About the Firm by Lawrence E. Ging

Partner Larry Ging and Associate Katie Pakler obtained summary judgment for our client, the owner of a mall where the accident took place.  Plaintiff claimed that she was walking through a department store in the mall when she slipped on a puddle of water and sustained various injuries.  She sued the department store as well as the firm client.  Plaintiff claimed both were responsible for creating the dangerous condition because they failed to adequately inspect the premises or provide warnings.

Through written discovery and depositions, Mr. Ging and Ms. Pakler established the client had no maintenance obligations inside the department store where the accident took place.  Rather, the client’s maintenance duties were limited to the exterior of the mall.  During oral arguments on the summary judgment motion, Mr. Ging contended there were no viable actions against the client because there was no duty of care.

We further argued that the store was subject to a lease, and the client was an out-of-possession landlord.  Under Pennsylvania law, the general rule is that out-of-possession landlords are not responsible for injuries to third parties on leased premises.  Mr. Ging demonstrated that none of the several exceptions to the general rule applied.

Plaintiff’s counsel opposed the summary judgment motion and argued the puddle on the floor could have resulted from snow/ice that was tracked into the store from outside.  Thus, counsel contended our client might have been negligent in carrying out its snow/ice removal duties outside the store.  He insisted it was a factual issue for the jury to resolve.

Mr. Ging countered that Plaintiff adduced no evidence tending to show how the puddle was created.  It was possible that a customer simply spilled water inside the store, in which case our client’s activities outside the store would be irrelevant.  Without any evidence to establish what created the puddle, the jury would be forced to improperly speculate.  Even if the puddle was from snow/ice, once the condition existed inside the store, it was no longer the client’s responsibility.

The Court agreed with Mr. Ging’s arguments and entered an order granting summary judgment to the client and dismissing it with prejudice from the lawsuit.