Panel denies landlord's duty to provide secondary egress to each individual apartment
A conservative panel of the Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a family's wrongful death claim arising out of the death of Edward Brannon. Brannon encountered a fire at the doorway of his apartment that blocked his exit, and ultimately jumped from a second-story window. He suffered severe burns and injuries including paralysis that ultimately resulted in his death. His family sued the landlord, KZ Properties, LLC, alleging that the landlord had violated its common law and statutory duties to provide a safe alternative egress to apartment residents.
The trial court focused on the concept that the required secondary exit under the BOCA code must be available to all apartment residents, without the need to traverse another resident's living space, and on this basis it concluded that the landlord had no duty to provide a secondary exit from Brannon's living unit. Therefore, the Court held that a landlord owes no legal duty to provide an alternative means of egress (a portable ladder) from the windows of a second-floor apartment. It also held that the absence of another means of egress caused by nailed-shut windows was not a "cause" of Brannon's injuries and death. The Court of Appeals accepted this approach.
In response to the family's claim that it was unreasonable for the landlord to fail to provide some alternative means of egress, which the family supported by reference to the Restatement of Torts, this panel of judges also punted. They evaded addressing the ultimate issue by holding that the family did not adequately brief the issue or articulate a "duty" owed by the landlord. They reverted to the Engler Majority's dodge of deciding "reasonable care" jury questions by redefining the threshold of care owed by the allegedly negligent actor: by their approach, a landlord's general duty to act "reasonably" under the common law is simply wiped out without analysis. Heretofore, this vague rejection of "duty" had been limited to "open and obvious" dangers. This panel of the Court didn't even bother to justify its holding by the latter inflated, activist doctrine.