If you are a commercial tenant, running a business and occupying under a commercial lease, can you be liable for injuries if a visitor or other passerby slips and falls outside your business?
The answer depends on a number of factors. The most important, however, may be a Court’s assessment of legal responsibilities of landlord and tenant under the commercial lease.
This issue came up recently in a non-California case against P.F. Chang China Bistro restaurant. A woman by the name of Sabena Beriy fell on what she claimed was a poorly maintained curb outside a P.F. Chang’s. P.F. Chang’s had leased the property from a landlord as part of a larger development. The lease provided that P.F. Chang’s was responsible for any injuries on its “premises,” and that the landlord was responsible for any injuries that occurred “outside” the premises.
P.F. Chang’s claimed that Sabena’s fall occurred in the common area of the development, not in its restaurant. It also claimed that the landlord was responsible under the lease for designing and maintaining the parking areas, driveways and curbs.
The landlord prevailed in the end. According to the court, the area in front of the restaurant was not “common,” but was exclusively for P.F. Chang’s use and was part of P.F. Chang’s “premises.” Further, while the landlord was supposed to build and maintain the curb, the lease provided that any such improvements on exclusive-use areas were again part of P.F. Chang’s “premises.”
Commercial tenants should take note. It’s important at the time of negotiating the lease exactly which areas establish legal responsibility for the tenant, and which do not. This is especially true in the context of the tenant’s liability insurance. Failure to accurately assess which property is part of the tenant’s premises, and which is not, may end up not only with primary responsibility for an accident, but inability to tender a claim to insurance!
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