Pagelsdorf v. Safeco Insurance Co.
91 Wis.2d 734, 84 N.W.2d 55 (1979)

  • Pagelsdorf was helping the Blattners move some heavy objects out of their apartment via the balcony. He leaned on the railing and it gave way. He fell and was injured.
  • Pagelsdorf sued Mahnke, who owned the apartment building.
    • The wooden railing was rotten, but this was not apparent to the eye.
    • As part of the lease agreement, Mahnke was responsible for maintenance, but only for repairing known or reported problems.
    • Btw, Mahnke was insured by Safeco Insurance, which is why their name was on the lawsuit.
  • The Trial Court found for Mahnke, Pagelsdorf appealed.
    • In general, a landlord is not liable for injuries to his tenants and their visitors resulting from defects in the premises.
      • The lease effectively transfers the liability to the renter, since they have control and possession of the property.
    • The Trial Court found that Mahnke owed no duty to discover dangers of which he was unaware.
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court found that there is an exception to the nonliability of landlords when they are contracted to repair defects to the property, or if the area remains in the landlord’s control (such as the lobby).
      • But that doesn’t apply here.
    • The Court made an arbitrary decision to abandon the traditional rule of leasor nonliability and decided it was better public policy to adopt the rule that a landlord had a duty to exercise ordinary care in the maintenance of the premises.
    • The case was remanded for a jury to decide if ordinary care would have discovered that the railing was rotten.