Generally, in a Washington premises liability case, a landowner may be held liable for injuries on the land if he or she has not given exclusive control of the premises to a lessee. If, however, the lease requires the landlord to repair the premises, then the landlord may be held liable for his or her own negligence.
The Washington Supreme Court (the “Court”) was recently asked to determine if a landlord was liable for injuries occurring in an area where the tenant had exclusive possession, but where the lease only granted the tenant priority use and the landlord was obligated to maintain and repair the premises.
The plaintiff was severely injured when a passenger ramp at the Port of Bellingham (the “Port”) fell. She worked for the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS). The State of Alaska has leased the Bellingham Cruise Terminal (BCT) from the Port of Bellingham for many years. Although AMHS has exclusive use of some areas under the lease, the lease gives AMHS only priority use of parking spaces and the marine facilities, including the passenger ramp. Under the lease, the Port was solely responsible for keeping the premises “in good repair and tenantable condition.” The lease requires the Port to keep the premises “in good and substantial repair and condition.” The Port is to “maintain the leased premises free of structural or mechanical hazards.”