Grocery store employee cannot sue store's landlord for alleged roof and freezer deficiencies
Steven Klenow was the meat manager for the grocery store where he worked. While entering a prefabricated walk-in freezer, he slipped on ice and suffered severe injuries. He sued the building's landlord, arguing that the icy condition of the walk-in unit was caused by a defect in the freezer unit on the roof, combined with a defect in the building's roof, itself. The Court upheld the dismissal of his claim. It ruled that since the landlord/owner was not in possession of the grocery store, it was only responsible for a hazardous condition if the condition arose from an external defect which was a responsibility of the owner.
The Court's opinion states that since the grocery store tenant owned the freezer unit, there was no question of fact regarding whether the owner/landlord should be responsible for defects in it. It interpreted the lease of the property to place on the tenant the duty to maintain the freezer unit on the roof. It held that the landlord owed no duty to preserve the allegedly defective roof and freezer unit, and since it had been destroyed, the plaintiff could not meet his burden of demonstrating a defect that caused his injury. It denied Mr. Klenow's argument that the failure to preserve the evidence should create an inference of negligence. Klenow cannot sue his employer, as his only remedy against the employer for an on-the-job injury is worker's compensation.