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Strauss v. Belle Realty Co.

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Brief Fact Summary.

A tenant sued after they had their utilities cut off.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A utility company owes a duty to the party they have contracted with.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

These factors are the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant's conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant's conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the extent of the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise care with resulting liability for breach, and the availability, cost, and prevalence of insurance for the risk involved.

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Facts.

Plaintiff contracted with the defendant to live in an apartment building in Queens.  As part of the arrangement, the landlord contracted with the utilities company for general utilities service to the building.  While the tenant was living in the apartment, the utility company was negligent, resulting in a 25 hour power outage.  The water pumps did not function because of the outage, so the plaintiff went to the basement, and slipped on stairs, sustaining injuries for which they sue.

Issue.

Can the plaintiff recover on the defendant’s negligence?

Held.

No, because despite their negligence, they do not owe a duty to the plaintiff.

Dissent.

Justice Meyer, J.

The justice does not disagree with the majority’s analysis of the public policy, but rather on the grounds that there are going to be costs associated with the injuries suffered, and it is more equitable for the utility company to suffer those costs than for the plaintiff to suffer them, particularly in light of their negligence.

Discussion.

The court rules that the plaintiff cannot recover against the utility company because, despite their negligence, they did not have a contractual relationship with the tenant, and consequently did not have a duty with respect to them.  They reason that as a matter of public policy, the potential plaintiffs against the utility company should be limited the parties who have a contractual relationship with them, because the alternative would be too broad.


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