The Vermont Supreme Court just issued a new premises liability decision, clearing a non-possessory property owner from a wrongful death claim made by an invitee of the commercial tenant. Here’s the decision and a very brief summary.
Fleurrey v. Department of Aging and Independent Living, et al. , 2023 VT 11 (Feb. 24, 2023). op22-082.pdf (vermontjudiciary.org)
In Fleurrey, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of a premises liability claim against a non-possessory, absentee landlord. The landlord rented the property, including a home, to a mental health organization, Upper Valley Services (UVS), and had no involvement in UVS’s use of the property. UVS used the home to house elderly and disabled residents needing care. The property had an unfenced pond on it.
Mr. Fleurrey, a disabled adult resident of the home, drowned in the pond. Mr. Fleurrey’s family sued several defendants, including the landowner, alleging negligence. The trial court granted the landowner’s motion for dismissal. The plaintiff appealed from that decision. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal. It held that as a nonpossessory landlord, who had no involvement in the business conducted on the property, the landlord owed no legal duty to the tenant’s (UVS’s) invitees, such as Mr. Fleurrey, and was not required to fence in the pond, which presented an open and obvious pre-existing condition at the time UVS rented the property.
This is similar to the summary judgment decision DRM got a couple of years ago for a client-commercial landlord in a supermarket injury case, where the landlord did not possess the property and had no say in how the supermarket ran its business. The plaintiff in that case was a delivery driver who fell and was severely injured on the loading dock.