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Panansewicz v. Jennings

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

January 27, 2014

PAMELA PANANSEWICZ and JOHN PANANSEWICZ, her husband, Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLIAM B. JENNINGS and KIMBERLY M. JENNINGS A/K/A KIMBERLY M. SMITH Defendants.

Date Submitted: October 23, 2013

On Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

On Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment.

Daniel D. Martin, Esq., Daniel D. Martin & Associates, Wilmington, Delaware 19806. Attorney for Plaintiffs.

Arthur D. Kuhl, Esq., Reger Rizzo & Darnall LLP, Wilmington, Delaware 19801. Attorney for Defendants.

OPINION

Calvin L. Scott Judge

Introduction

Defendants William Jennings ("Defendant-husband") and Kimberly Jennings ("Defendant-wife") move for summary judgment on claims arising from Pamela Panansewicz's ("Plaintiff-wife") fall from wooden stairs attached to the deck of a home that she and John Panansewicz ("Plaintiff-husband") rented from Defendant-husband.[1] The Court has reviewed the parties' submissions. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is GRANTED, in part, and DENIED, in part, and Plaintiffs' Counter-motion for summary judgment is DENIED.

Background[2]

On July 1, 2010, Plaintiffs signed a lease to a property owned by Defendant-husband located at 334 Dillwyn Drive in Newark, Delaware. Plaintiffs moved in on July 9, 2010. On the evening of July 20, 2010, Plaintiff-wife fell while using wooden stairs attached to the deck in order to take her dog for a walk. Plaintiff-wife placed her right foot onto the first tread from the ground and the tread "bowed and tilted and [her] foot slid backwards in between the steps."[3] Although Plaintiff-wife did not know whether the tread detached, Plaintiff felt as though it "lifted up."[4]

Prior to signing the lease, Plaintiffs visited the property three times. On the first visit, Plaintiff-wife informed Defendant-husband that the tread was "wobbly"[5] or "not completely solid."[6] According to Plaintiff-wife, Defendant-husband stated that he "knew that the deck was in bad repair and that he would get it fixed when he got back from vacation."[7] Plaintiff-husband also observed that the steps were "rotting and in disrepair"[8] and "loose."[9]

As owner, Defendant-husband assumed sole responsibility for making repairs on the property.[10] Defendant-husband made no repairs to the deck or stairs prior to Plaintiff-wife's fall.[11] After Plaintiff-wife's fall, Defendants inspected the stairs.[12] Defendant-husband stated that he observed no problems with the stairs, other than the fact "that they had no backs."[13]

Parties' Contentions

Plaintiffs filed this suit for negligence, alleging that "the steps, among other defects, were improperly installed and maintained, uneven and had no backing that would prevent such an injury."[14] Plaintiffs asserted that Defendant-husband breached his duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition, allowed a dangerous condition to exist on the property, failed to repair the dangerous condition, and that Defendants knew or should have known of the dangerous condition. Plaintiffs claimed that Defendant-wife was also negligent based on her management of the property and that Defendant-husband was liable for her negligence based on respo ...


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