Davis Law Firm

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: When Trying to Help a Little Hurts a Lot

A landlord who had no legal obligation to do so, voluntarily fixed a trailer tenant’s refrigerator. Later that day, the tenant blew himself up lighting a cigarette because of a disconnected gas line in the trailer. Though the landlord in the first place had no obligation to repair the refrigerator, the possibility that he may have impacted the gas line when he did so, made him potentially liable for all those damages– perhaps best that the landlord had left well enough alone and let the tenant repair his own refrigerator!

Under Arkansas law, Arkansas Code Annotated §18-16-110, a landlord is not liable to a tenant for death, personal injury, or property damage caused by any defect or disrepair on the premises, unless landlord by specific agreement has agreed to correct or repair any such defects or disrepair, or the landlord has assumed, by conduct, a duty to maintain or repair the premises. In Hurd v. Hurt, 2017 Ark. App. 228, the landlord had no written leases with his tenants, but from time to time undertook at a tenant’s request, to make repairs. Consistent with that practice, at the tenant’s request, the landlord repaired the tenant’s refrigerator and later that day, the tenant in lighting a cigarette blew himself up. The cause of the explosion was determined to be a disconnected gas line. The landlord had not been requested to review or repair the gas line. However, the court ruled that since the landlord had undertaken to repair the refrigerator, he was obliged to do so in a reasonable manner, and whether that repair broke the gas line and that was an unreasonable effort to repair the refrigerator were questions that should be decided by the jury, rather than automatically exculpate the landlord. Had the landlord simply declined to make any repairs for the tenants, he would have had no liability for the gas line explosion, regardless of how it was caused.

 

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