No duty owed to fallen apple seller; Court grants summary judgment motion to premises owner

Sabouni v. Intercontinental Truck Brokerage, Inc., et al., Index No. 304243/2013 (Sup. Ct. Bronx Cty. Oct. 11, 2018)

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Plaintiff, a fruit and vegetable seller, wanted to exchange some apples at the Hunts Point Terminal Market. So, with the approval, he thought, of one of the porters of an apple wholesaler (the Market's tenant), he went to a trailer that was docked at the market to do what was necessary. The trailer pulled away, creating a gap, the fruit seller fell, and litigation ensued.

On the Market's motion for summary judgment, the question was, what duty did the Market owe the fruit seller? None, argued the Market. It was a matter of the lease, which obligated the Market's tenant to keep the premises in good working order and condition, and to make repairs. Of course, the Market's safety department investigates accidents; but it does not promulgate any safety rules or direct trailer traffic. Thus, it had no duty to maintain an allegedly defective condition that allegedly caused the accident.

The Court agreed. It applied the well-settled rule that "a landlord is not generally liable for negligence with respect to the condition of property after it transfers possession and control to a tenant, unless the landlord is either contractually obligated to make repairs or maintain the premises, or has a contractual right to reenter, inspect and make needed repairs at the tenant's expense, and liability is based on a significant structural or design defect that is contrary to a specific statutory safety provision." The Market established that it had no duty to maintain the allegedly defective condition, and plaintiff failed to allege a significant structural or design defect that is contrary to a specific statutory safety provision.

AGF&J partner Steven Disiervi briefed and argument the motion, with assistance from associate James Brown.