WHEN IS THE OWNER OF A TRAILER PARK RESPONSIBLE FOR INJURIES TO RESIDENTS CAUSED BY THIRD PARTIES?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
South ex rel. South v. McCarter, 280 Kan. 85, 119 P.3d 1 (2005).
This case addresses the following issue:
When is the owner of a trailer park responsible for injuries to residents caused by third parties?
This case involved the contours of premise liability arising from a duty to protect residents for third parties. Id. at 97. The court found that the owner of mobile home park did not have to take any steps to protect the plaintiff from a fistfight that occurred outside of the parks common areas. Id. at 99-100. The contract between the owner of the park and the tenant did not place any obligation on the defendant to provide security and there were no facts to indicate the defendant was on notice of the danger posed by the third party. Id. These facts showed that the defendant owed no duty to protect plaintiff from the danger of the fight that caused his injuries. Id. at 111.
In this case, the plaintiff was a minor who resided at a mobile home park with his parents. Id. at 86. Plaintiff got in a fist fight with another resident of the park. Id. at 87. Plaintiff was badly injured and brought suit against several defendants, including the owner of the mobile home park. Id. Plaintiff advanced a premise liability theory against the owner, stating that a special relationship existed that created a duty for the owner to protect plaintiff against violent acts of third parties. Id. The trial court granted summary judgment for the owners, finding no such duty existed. Id. at 90. Plaintiff appealed. Id.
The court began by noting that “in the absence of a ‘special relationship’ there is no duty on a person to control the conduct of a third person to prevent harm to others.” Id. at 95. The plaintiff argued that a special relationship existed based upon the rental agreement between the owner and its renters—that of a landlord-tenant. Id. at 96. The court, however, did not find any contractual obligation for the owner to provide security for renters. Id. This was particularly true as far as non-common areas of the property were concerned, such as the front yard where the fight that injured plaintiff had occurred. Id. at 98-99.
The court next addressed whether the other resident involved in the fight constituted a known danger. Id. at 99. The court noted that the duty to protect form a known danger also arises from the landowner/invitee-licensee relationship. Id. at 99-100. The key to this type of liability is the “foreseeability of injury.” Id. The court distinguished other cases which had found premise liability to exist because the owner lacked “concrete information concerning previous alleged” dangers. Id. at 100. Without such concrete information in the record, the court could not find the necessarily foreseeability that this duty requires. Id. Thus, without a duty arising from any special relationship, the trial court had appropriately found for the owner. Id.