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Home / Courts / Landlord/Tenant – Commercial Lease – Tenant’s Employee – Personal Injury – Premises Safety Liability

Landlord/Tenant – Commercial Lease – Tenant’s Employee – Personal Injury – Premises Safety Liability

Hylton v. Hanesbrands, Inc. (Lawyers Weekly No. 11-07-0919, 21 pp.) (Donna S. Stroud, J.) Appealed from Forsyth County Superior Court. (Edwin G. Wilson Jr., J.) N.C. App. Click here for the full-text opinion.

Holding: When a manufacturer leased property to a tenant so the tenant could provide power to the manufacturer, the lease provisions did not give the manufacturer authority over safety on the leased property.

We affirm summary judgment for the defendant-landlord.

Plaintiff was working for the defendant-landlord’s tenant when the front-end loader plaintiff was operating turned over and rolled down a large pile of sawdust. Plaintiff was injured in the fall. He alleged the landlord negligently failed to address inadequate lighting and other safety issues, making it liable for his injuries.

A landlord who has neither possession nor control of leased premises is not liable for injuries to third persons. However, plaintiff argues that the defendant-landlord retained sufficient control over the leased premises to establish a duty to plaintiff.

In alleging that the landlord failed to maintain the premises in a safe condition, warn of hidden dangers, or make a reasonable inspection of the premises, plaintiff alleged, “There were significant lighting issues and problems which existed in the area and which the defendant failed to correct despite the ability to do so.”

The specific hazard in question arose from the safety issues posed by piles of sawdust and inadequate lighting. Therefore, we look to the lease to see the extent of the landlord’s control as to these conditions on the leased property.

The lease appears to be a mutual covenant requiring the tenant to provide steam and the landlord to provide land for a steam facility and to buy its steam exclusively from the tenant.

Plaintiff points out a lease provision that requires the tenant to allow the landlord “reasonable access, as deemed necessary by [the landlord], to the site and boiler facility.” However, plaintiff cites no case law for the proposition that a lessor with reasonable access to leased property can be liable for injuries to a third party that occurred on that leased property just because of that access.

Plaintiff also points to lease § 7.4: “[The tenant] shall allow [the landlord] to inspect and review operational and maintenance procedures as needed to convince [the landlord] that the Boiler Facility is operated using good standard practices and that the Boiler Facility is kept in good condition.”

At most § 7.4 gives the landlord the right to inspect the tenant’s facilities but no immediate right of correction. This provision is too broad and indefinite to create liability for negligence or to establish that the landlord had control of the safety issues that plaintiff alleged at the leased premises.

Lease provisions governing how the tenant’s employees should perform at the landlord’s facility are irrelevant to the issue of the landlord’s control of the leased premises.

Plaintiff also cites lease § 4.3: “[The landlord] shall provide access to the Boiler Facility by an access road from public roads or through [the landlord’s] facility.”

This provision does not control any aspect of the tenant’s operation of the steam plant on the premises.

Lease § 20.4 requires wood fuel to be delivered to the leased premises and gives the landlord the right to approve or reject any fuel suppliers. This section imposes no requirements or directions as to how the wood is to be stored or regarding lighting around the wood supply.

Even in the aggregate, these lease sections tend to demonstrate that the lease left the specifics of operating the steam facility to the tenant’s discretion.

Furthermore, in § 2 the lease states that the tenant will operate a facility comprised of “facilities for the storage and handling of the wood fuel and other materials”; maintain “all … safety, traffic control and security equipment and services as required by law,” and “all access roads, drainage and lighting structures”; and “keep the Boiler Facility neat, clean, and well-maintained….”

Based on the foregoing, it is clear that, contractually, the tenant was in exclusive control of the safety issue alleged by plaintiff.

The lease specifically states that the tenant’s relation to the landlord is as its subcontractor to provide steam for the landlord’s facility. Therefore, the tenant contracted to provide steam, and the tenant made the decision as to how to provide that steam, which included constructing large piles of sawdust in a particular location that had poor lighting.

Therefore, the nature of the sawdust piles and the lighting were actions that were collateral to providing steam. No recovery may be allowed for an injury resulting from an act or fault purely collateral to the work and which arises entirely from the wrongful act of an independent contractor or his employees.

Accordingly, we are not persuaded by plaintiff’s alternative argument that the landlord owed plaintiff a duty of care as “operating heave machinery at night without sufficient lighting is inherently dangerous” and the landlord’s representatives were aware or should have been aware “of the lack of adequate lighting.”


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