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Demello v. Liu, Del. Super., C.A. No. N11C-08-037 WCC (Jan. 16, 2013)

The Delaware Superior Court Declines to Extend Delaware Premises Guest Statute to Unlisted Tenant in Rental Property

In this premises liability case, Plaintiff filed suit to recover damages for injuries sustained when he stepped on a nail in a shed next to the rental property where he was residing. Plaintiff was one of several friends that rented a property from the Defendant-Landlord. Only two of the tenants were listed in the lease; Plaintiff was not named in the lease. The Defendant-Landlord, however, was aware that Plaintiff was living in the rental property.

The shed in which Plaintiff was injured was located behind an adjacent property, also owned by the same landlord. Testimony confirmed that Defendant-Landlord gave permission to tenants of both properties to use the shed for storage purposes. No one other than the Defendant-Landlord and the tenants of the two rental properties were permitted to access the shed.

The Defendant-Landlord filed a motion for summary judgement, arguing that Plaintiff should be considered a guest without payment and his conduct, therefore, should be covered under the Delaware Premises Guest Statute. Under the Delaware Premises Guest Statute, a guest without payment only has a cause of action against an owner or occupier of land for intentional acts or willful and wanton disregard of the rights of others by such owner or occupier. Defendant-Landlord argued that under the facts of this case, there was no evidence of intentional or willful and wanton acts on his part and the case should be dismissed.

In denying the Defendant's motion for summary judgement, the Court expressly held that the Delaware Premises Guest Statute did not apply in this case. In so holding, the Court found that it was of no relevance that the Plaintiff was not on the lease given that the Defendant was aware that the Plaintiff was living in the rental property. The Court also noted that the Defendant knew and allowed Plaintiff to enter the shed where the injury occurred. Finally, the Court concluded that only renters of the two rental properties owned by the Defendant-Landlord were permitted to use the shed and, therefore, use of the shed was conditioned on the payment of rent. Finding the Delaware Premises Guest Statute inapplicable, the Court denied Defendant's motion for summary judgement.

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