Landowner’s Duty of Care for Visitors is “Non-Delegable”
Premises liability law can be tricky for business landowners in Vermont. Landowners owe a duty to others who are legally present on their land, (whether the landowner is the business “occupant” of the land or not), to use reasonable care to prevent exposure to injury. Landowners who lease or license their land to others for the purpose of operating a business often attempt to limit their legal exposure to claims arising out of injury to the business guests of the tenant through strong lease language. However, such language does not necessarily shield the landowner from liability for these types of claims.
What Are A Landowners Duties?
A landowner’s duty of reasonable care is defined under the law to be “non-delegable.” This means that pure ownership, regardless of possible delegation of the occupancy of the land to others under a lease, carries requisite duties of care which cannot be escaped. Thus, an injury to your tenant’s business guest can result in liability exposure to you as the owner of the premises.
As noted above, one key defense strategy for landowners who lease their property to another business is to include strong lease language which specifically assigns the duties of maintenance, repairs, inspection, signage and other routines to the tenant. However, the more important elements of a full defense strategy also include (1) indemnity language in your lease which specifically provides for both the legal defense of claims and indemnity by the tenant for injury to the tenant’s guests; and, (2) insisting on the appropriate insurance coverage to be held by the tenant which specifically names the landowner on an insurance certificate as an “additional insured” under that tenant’s policy.
‘This three-pronged approach, (specified duties in the lease, indemnity language in the lease and additional insured status on an insurance certificate), will provide a landowner with the maximum protection against claims arising out of the business operation of the tenant, including the defense of any such claims, at least up to the available insurance coverage in place for the tenant.
Vermont Premise Liability Lawyer
It is important to remember, however, that in a circumstance where the claim value exceeds the tenant’s coverage, an injured claimant, (albeit a customer of the tenant), can seek recovery directly against the landowner under the principle of “non-delegation” of the duty to keep premises reasonably safe for the guest.
For further advice on your specific needs, contact one of our attorneys for a consultation,