Is there a valid lease agreement? The typical case involves a written lease agreement. Take, for example, a commercial building completely occupied by a grocery store. We will call the tenant Store-Mart. Landlord leased the entire premises to Store-Mart. The lease agreement requires Landlord to make major repairs. The lease agreement requires Store-Mart to make minor repairs and maintain the premises. The lease agreement is important as it defines the parties and sets out certain responsibilities between Landlord and Store-Mart. We will call the person injured or killed the Claimant. Claimant was not a party to the lease agreement. Who Claimant is and why Claimant was on the property is very important. Was there a defect or dangerous condition on the premises that caused the injury? If Claimant merely tripped and fell going down reasonably maintained and code-compliant stairs because Claimant was not watching where he was going, then Landlord is not responsible. On the other hand, if something caused Claimant to fall, or if something fell on Claimant, or if something burned Claimant, or shocked Claimant, or cut Claimant (you get the picture), then there is reason to ask the next question. Was the defect or dangerous condition part of the premises or was it a temporary and transient condition? Remember, we are considering the question of Landlord's responsibility, if any. If there was a spill on the floor that caused the slip and fall, Landlord had no responsibility to maintain the premises. That was Store-Mart's responsibility. If Store-Mart's employee left an extension cord in the aisle as a trip hazard, that is not Landlord's fault. Those transient conditions are the kinds of things Store-Mart is responsible to handle. If, however, the defect or dangerous condition was part of the premises itself, the issue of Landlord's responsibility is still a valid question. Was the defect or dangerous condition open and obvious? Neither Landlord nor Store-Mart are responsible for open and obvious conditions about which Claimant was aware, or about which Claimant should have been aware. Oftentimes, however, whether a condition on the premises that caused injury was open and obvious is a question the courts won't answer. Rather, the courts often leave that question for a jury to decide. Was the defect or dangerous condition latent or hidden? Now we are getting closer to the ultimate question in deciding whether Landlord is responsible. Assume for our purposes that the condition complained of was latent or hidden. We need to know when the condition began. Did it exist at the time of letting (when Landlord and Store-Mart entered into the lease)? This issue leads to the most important question for Landlord, but first consider one more question. Did the injured person come onto the premises under the tenant's title? For example, was Claimant the employee, guest, customer, vendor or contractor of Store-Mart? If so, Landlord owed Claimant the same duty owed to Store-Mart. If so, go to the seventh and ultimate question. However, if Claimant was on the property at the invitation of Landlord, then Landlord may have owed Claimant the duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. That is the duty of an invitor, just like Store-Mart would have owed to its own customers. The issue of an invitor is not addressed in this guide. Did Landlord conceal the defect or dangerous condition from Tenant at the time they entered into the lease? If the answer is No, then Landlord is not responsible to Claimant. The ultimate question in this whole exercise is whether, at the time of entering into the lease, Landlord concealed from Store-Mart the defect or dangerous condition. If Landlord did conceal the defect or dangerous condition at the time of letting, then Landlord is responsible. On the other hand, if at the time of entering into the lease Landlord did not hide or conceal the dangerous condition from Store-Mart, then Landlord is not responsible to Claimant. Landlord owed Claimant no duty greater than that owed to Store-Mart, since Claimant entered the property under Store-Mart's title. As you might expect, these cases turn on many, many facts and details. This guide gives only a general understanding. For any real claim, potential claim or case, consult with me or another lawyer who handles premises liability cases in Alabama.