Landlord Liability for Tenant Injury Cases

Numerous cases have decided the question of a landlord's liability for a tenant's injuries by considering the foreseeability of injury as balanced against the burden of protecting against the injury. Many of the cases addressing the issue have failed to draw the semantic distinction between the existence of a landlord's duty and the scope of that duty in a given factual situation. (See, e.g., Cohen v. Southland Corp. (1984) 157 Cal. App. 3d 130, 203 Cal. Rptr. 572; Sturgeon v. Curnutt (1994) 29 Cal. App. 4th 301; and Isaacs, supra, 38 Cal. 3d 112.) In our opinion, this omission has led to confusion about the court's job in deciding, as a matter of law, the scope of the duty. Adding to the confusion is the fact that some of these same cases have not been explicit in weighing the burden that would be placed on the landlord if it was placed under a duty to conduct itself in the manner proposed by plaintiff as against the degree of foreseeability of the harm to the plaintiff. (See, e.g., Frances T. v. Village Green Owners Assn. (1986) 42 Cal. 3d 490, 229 Cal. Rptr. 456, 723 P.2d 573; Sturgeon, supra, 29 Cal. App. 4th 301.) This is not to say that the cases were wrongly decided. In fact, they have decided the correct question (scope of duty) and balanced the risks and benefits (foreseeability and burden). Our criticism is only that they have not been precise or explicit in the language used to explain their decision, thereby rendering more difficult the trial courts' task. (See, e.g., Cohen, supra, 157 Cal. App. 3d 130.)