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Unlit Light Costs Center
by Ron Davis
Blame for an auto accident that occurred in a tenantís designated parking area at a Kentucky shopping center has shifted entirely to the centerís owners.
The shopping center, Appletree Plaza in Lexington, leases a building to the tenant, an AutoZone vehicle-parts store. However, the parking lot that was the scene of the auto accident is controlled and maintained by the centerís owners.
Details in the case show that the accident occurred at night. A married couple, after shopping at AutoZone, rammed their car into an unlit light pole just outside the store and suffered resulting injuries. The couple sued AutoZone and the shopping centerís owners, claiming that they failed to properly maintain the parking lot.
The AutoZone lease clearly states that the parking lot where the accident occurred is the responsibility of the shopping centerís owners. But AutoZone actually installed the light pole that the couple struck. Moreover, an investigation later found that a switch that normally turned on the light was defective and apparently not working at the time of the accident. That switch is installed, not in the light pole at issue, but in a separate pole containing lighted store signs.
A Kentucky court, in ruling that the shopping centerís owners were solely responsible for the accident, pointed out that AutoZone was neither an owner nor an occupier of the parking lot and therefore owed no responsibility for the accident. The shopping centerís owners appealed, arguing that there was no proof that they agreed to maintain the light pole that AutoZone installed in the parking lot. The owners also contended that an oral modification of the lease accompanied the installation of the light pole.
A Kentucky appellate court upheld the lower court ruling, explaining, ďFirst, AutoZone was not placed in the unrestricted possession and control of the premises. Rather, pursuant to the terms of the lease, the shopping centerís owners retained control of all common facilities, including the parking lot.... Therefore, AutoZone owed no duty to the injured couple, and it had no duty in regard to parking lot maintenance or safety that it could shift to the shopping centerís owners. Second, there is no fact issue concerning any oral modification of the lease. Any such agreement was required to be in writing. Since no written modification was shown, the original terms of the lease must stand unaltered.Ē (LeMaster v. Appletree Plaza Limited Partnership, 2005 WL 327103 [Ky.App.])
Decision: January 2005
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