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Peterson v. Superior Court of Riverside County

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff sued for negligence and strict liability for injuries sustained when she fell in her hotel room bathtub. The trial court granted Defendants’ motion in limine to prevent Plaintiff from introducing any evidence or making any reference to strict liability in the case. The court of appeal issued a writ of mandate directing the trial court to permit Plaintiff to proceed on her strict liability cause of action. Defendants appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A landlord cannot be held strictly liable for a tenant’s injuries that result from a dangerous condition on the premises if the landlord was unaware of the condition and took reasonable steps to discover any such conditions. 

    Facts.

    Peterson (Plaintiff) slipped and fell in her hotel room bathtub, resulting in serious injuries. She sued the hotel owners, management, and the bathtub manufacturer. Plaintiff sued for negligence and strict liability, arguing that the tub was a defective product because it was too slippery and lacking any anti-skid surface or handrails. Banque Paribas and Harbaugh Hotel Management Corp. (Defendants) filed a motion in limine to prevent Plaintiff from introducing any evidence or making any reference to strict liability in the case, which the trial court granted. The court of appeal issued a writ of mandate directing the trial court to permit Plaintiff to proceed on her strict liability cause of action. Defendants appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether a landlord can be held strictly liable for a tenant’s injuries that result from a dangerous condition on the premises.

    Held.

    No. The court of appeals’ ruling is reversed and the case is remanded for consideration of the negligence claim.

    Discussion.

    Strict liability would impose an unfair burden on landlords to discover and correct defects that would not be disclosed by a reasonable inspection. A landlord who rents dwellings or hotel rooms is not on equal footing with product manufacturers in terms of being knowledgeable about their product. A tenant therefore does not have a reasonable expectation that a premises will be absolutely safe even against dangerous conditions which the landlord is unaware of and could not discover through reasonable inspection. A tenant may still bring an action in ordinary negligence against a landlord who fails to take reasonable steps to make the premises safe. An injured tenant may also sue the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer of a defective product that caused the injury.


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