New Jersey Appellate Division Holds That Restaurant Landlord Is Not Liable for Accident Resulting from Obstruction of Doorway

In Gross v. Fotinos Enterprises, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, examined an action arising from an accident at a restaurant where the plaintiff worked. The plaintiff tripped and fell over a cinder block used to prop open an exterior door at the restaurant, sustaining injuries to her arm and shoulder. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the building’s landlord, claiming that the landlord breached a duty to inspect the property pursuant to the lease agreement and enforce lease violations. The lease agreement was a triple-net lease that required the lessee to maintain and repair the property. The lease agreement further provided that the tenant shall not obstruct the sidewalks, driveways, yards, entrances, driveways, and stairs, but shall maintain them in a clean condition.

Following discovery, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that it had no responsibility for the accident pursuant to the terms of the lease agreement. The plaintiff responded by arguing that the defendant was obligated to enforce the terms of the lease, including the provision prohibiting the tenant from obstructing entrances and exits at the property. The plaintiff further contended that a representative of the defendant frequently visited the property and that the defendant therefore knew or should have known that the front door was being propped open. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the tenant clearly had the duty to maintain the property under the terms of the lease, and that there was no evidence that the defendant was aware that the front door was frequently propped open. The Appellate Division agreed with the trial court’s analysis and affirmed its decision.