Although Washington, D.C. landlords are responsible for maintaining their properties, D.C. law generally allows landlords to relieve themselves of liability for negligence through an agreement between the landlord and the tenant. If the parties clearly agreed to release liability, the court will generally uphold the agreement. However, Washington, D.C. courts have made it clear that exculpatory clauses in agreements are only construed to limit liability for negligence if the language in the lease clarifies that it was the intended effect. However, an agreement will not be enforced in cases of gross negligence, willful acts, or fraud. In addition, the agreement must apply and be intended to apply to the premises in question.
Under Washington, D.C. law, a landlord who has exclusive control of a building in which there are leased premises must exercise reasonable and ordinary care in managing that portion of the premises under the landlord’s exclusive control (such as a common hallway or bathroom). In the portions under the landlord’s exclusive control, the landlord is generally still liable for injuries because of a defective condition that the landlord fails to address.
In a recent case before one state appeals court, the court considered whether the landlord could be relieved of liability due to an exculpatory clause contained in the lease. The plaintiff in the case hit his head on a beam in the doorway, causing him to fall down the stairs. The plaintiff was the tenant in a commercial lease with the building owner. The plaintiff claimed that his fall was caused by the inherently dangerous condition of the staircase because the location of the beam was in violation of numerous building codes. In the lease, there was an exculpatory clause that stated that the lessor was not liable for personal injury to the lessee and others “whether the said injury . . . results from conditions arising upon the Premises or upon other portions of the Building, or from other sources or places.” The plaintiff filed a claim against the lessor for negligence and premises liability.
The landlord argued in part that the clause in the lease exempted them from liability. The appeals court agreed, holding that the clause protected the defendant from liability based on ordinary negligence. The court explained that an exculpatory clause generally only shields the lessor from liability for passive negligence. The language clearly showed that the defendants were intended to be shielded from liability based on the language in the lease. Failing to inspect the property for building code violations was, at best ordinary negligence. The plaintiff also knew about the low beam at the top of the door frame because he had used the entry multiple times, and he had seen another person hit his head on the doorway before. Thus, the court dismissed the case based on the exculpatory clause in the lease.
Consult a Washington, D.C. Accident Lawyer Today
Injured tenants may be able to recover compensation for their injuries through a Washington, D.C. premises liability claim despite leases that seem to relieve landlords of liability. Knowing when and how to file a claim is one important reason an injured tenant should consult with an experienced Washington, D.C. accident lawyer. Lebowitz & Mzhen, Personal Injury Lawyers can help you assess your situation. They have over 20 years of experience helping people in the Washington, D.C. area to seek the compensation they deserve after they have been injured. Call them at (800) 654-1949 or contact them online set up a free consultation.