It’s Becoming More Dangerous to be a Residential Landlord
- It’s Becoming More Dangerous to be a Residential Landlord.
In the case of Oliver vs. World Wide Corporate Housing, L.P. (Case#BC516791), a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury has delivered a $3M verdict to a mother of a tenant who died in a furnished apartment rented from the Landlord after a television supplied by the landlord allegedly started a fire. The theory was strict product liability law in that the landlord was supposedly responsible for furnishing a television that sparked the fatal 2012 apartment fire. The fire occurred at Oakwood Garden Apartments in Los Angeles. The Plaintiff’s attorney argued that because the landlord offered televisions with the furnished rental apartments it fell into the chain of distribution under strict product liability law.
In 2005 the State Supreme Court decided that strict liability law is not enforceable regarding household items regarding fixtures, such as a stove or a light. See Peterson vs. Superior Court  10 Cal. 4th 1185. According to this jury the television falls out of the range of being deemed a fixture. Therefore, the landlord was liable. The tenant who died had a blood alcohol of 0.28 which is more three times the legal limit as well as prescription pain medications in her system at the time of her death. The cause of the fire was never specifically determined by the fire investigator.
The defense attorneys for the landlord denied that the fire was started because of the television and asserted that Plaintiff failed to exit the apartment because she was under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
What landlord wants face a jury in Los Angeles County Superior Court with screwball decisions like this when it comes to a premises liability case. Now all residental landlords are going to have to reconsider renting units that are furnished unless they have substantial liability insurance policies. Obviously this case will be appealed and it will be interesting to see what the 2nd District Court of Appeal has to say about this rather unusual jury verdict.
About the Author
Scott Souders is a real estate attorney who has practiced real estate law in excess of 42 years in Southern California. The Real Estate Law Update cites cases or statutes which are summarized and should not be relied upon without fully reading the cases or statute in the advance sheets and shepardizing the same and consulting with your own attorney.