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07/17/2013

Seiferth Successfully Defends Landlord at Trial

On June 12, 2013, following a three-day jury trial in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, before the Honorable Lawrence F. Clark, Jr., Adam Seiferth of Cipriani & Werner obtained a defense verdict for his client. The plaintiff, a tenant of the defendant’s apartment building, was walking down an exterior metal stairway from her second floor apartment when a tread broke loose causing her to fall approximately five feet to the sidewalk below. The plaintiff claimed that the overall dilapidated condition of the stairs placed the defendant on notice that the tread was dangerous. Attorney Seiferth argued that there was no notice that the stairway tread would break and, further, that there was no evidence as to why it broke or what the defendant should have discovered about the tread to place him on notice of the allegedly dangerous condition. The plaintiff never complained to the defendant about the stairs, and a building inspection completed six weeks prior to the incident did not identify the stairs as a safety concern.

As a result of the fall, the plaintiff claimed she sustained a low back injury, inclusive of an aggravation of degenerative lumbar discs and annular tears. Medical bills were in excess of $11,000.

The jury was instructed on the duty of care a landlord owes its tenant pursuant to Section 306 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which provides that a lessor is liable “for physical harm caused by a dangerous condition upon that part of the land retained in the lessor’s control, if the lessor by the exercise of reasonable care could have discovered the condition and the unreasonable risk involved therein and could have made the condition safe.” (See Attorney Seiferth’s C&W Journal article, “Applicability of Obvious Condition Defense Not So Obvious.”)

The jury accepted that argument that the accident was not reasonably foreseeable and returned a verdict in the defendant’s favor, finding no negligence on the part of Attorney Seiferth’s client. The plaintiff’s last demand prior to trial was $75,000.