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Hey, Who Knew?
by Ron Davis
Did the owner of a Louisiana shopping center know that a hazardous condition may have existed inside a tenantís premises?
That was the pivotal question in a recent lawsuit against the shopping center owner. For without such proof of knowledge of a potential hazard, a lawsuit of this kind is typically doomed to failure.
The shopping center, located in suburban New Orleans, was the target of the lawsuit after an employee of the tenant--Winn-Dixie Louisiana, Inc.--slipped and fell, injuring herself. She argued that the surface of the floor where she slipped (in the storeís seafood section) was defective and that the shopping center owner should have corrected such a safety hazard.
The shopping center owner replied to the charge by arguing that he was not aware of any defective floor. Moreover, he added, Winn-Dixie, as the tenant, assumed liability for any defects if they did exist in its leased premises.
In fact, under Louisiana law, the owner of property leased to a tenant is not responsible for any injuries caused by any defect "unless the owner knew or should have known of the defect." And the shopping center owner in this case contended, without contradiction, that he did not know of any defect.
A state district court agreed with the shopping center owner and ruled in his favor. The injured woman subsequently appealed that ruling.
A Louisiana appellate court affirmed the lower court decision, explaining, "The provisions of the lease agreement are clear and unambiguous. Winn-Dixie agreed as tenant of the building to keep the interior of the building, including the floors, in good condition.... Further, the shopping center owner submitted evidence sufficient to negate an essential element of the claim, i.e., knowledge of the condition, and the injured woman failed to produce factual support sufficient to establish that she could meet her burden of proof of such knowledge." (Jones v. Gatusso, 782 So.2d 11 [La.App. 5 Cir. 2001])
Decision: March 2001
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