Stalter v. Akers, 90-131

Decision Date12 November 1990
Docket NumberNo. 90-131,90-131
PartiesPatsi STALTER, Appellant, v. Sandy AKERS, Appellee.
CourtArkansas Supreme Court

Richard N. Watts, Brian Allen Brown, Little Rock, for appellant.

Darryl E. Baker, James Gerard Schulze, Little Rock, for appellee.

TURNER, Justice.

The appellant, Patsi Stalter, owned a house that she leased or rented to Jason and Laura Howard. The appellee, Sandy Akers, was the Howards' neighbor and a frequent visitor to their home.

On the evening of June 15, 1988, Jason Howard asked Mrs. Akers to come over to the Howards' residence to talk to his wife, Laura. The purpose of the visit was to discuss a shocking and dangerous "practical joke" played by the Howards on a young boy, who was an overnight guest in the Akers's home. Upon being told the details of the "joke," the appellee became angry, picked up the Howards' two small children, and started to return home. When she reached the bottom step of the Howards' porch, a concrete block placed as a temporary substitute for a broken step gave way, and she fell, breaking her leg.

The appellee was aware that the bottom step leading to the Howards' porch was broken. Mrs. Akers testified that she had overheard a conversation in which the appellant had told her tenant, Laura Howard, that she would repair the broken step.

The appellee sued the Howards and their landlord, the appellant, to recover for her injuries and expenses. The trial court entered a default judgment against the Howards, and the jury returned a verdict of $16,000 for Mrs. Akers against the appellant/landlord.

On appeal, the appellant argues three issues for reversal: first, the court erred in submitting the issues to the jury and, after judgment, in failing to set the judgment aside because the appellee was a licensee and because the hazard was open and obvious and no duty was thus owed to the appellee; second, the court erred in submitting AMI 1104A to the jury because the appellant's gratuitous promise did not create a legal duty owed to the appellee; third, the court erred in refusing to grant a directed verdict because there was no evidence of negligence by the appellant.

We perceive the single real issue in this case to be whether, in the absence of a contract to maintain, an owner of property leased to another is subject to any liability for injuries occurring to third persons as a result of defective conditions of the property. If liability does attach, the question becomes whether the status of the injured third party (invitee, licensee, or trespasser) is relevant to a determination of the duty owed by the owner to the third party.

We first dispose of the question concerning the "legal status" of the appellee upon the premises. That status was immaterial in determining the rights and obligations between these parties so long as the appellee was on the premises with the consent of the lessee. There is no doubt that, under the facts of this case, the injured appellee was on the property with the consent of Mrs. Howard, the lessee.

Whether the appellant/landlord may incur liability to the third party--the appellee--presents a more complex problem. Here, the record indicates there was evidence that the appellee overheard a conversation between the appellant and her tenant in which the appellant promised to repair the defective steps. The appellant argues that, in the absence of facts establishing a legal obligation to fulfill the promise to repair, the promise is gratuitous and insufficient to create a duty owed to persons on the demised property with the consent of the lessee.

We have found no Arkansas case, and the parties cite none, where we have expressly held that a contract to repair or maintain the premises is necessary to impose liability on the landlord for injury to a third person on the leased premises. However, we have so indicated in a number of...

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6 cases
  • Propst v. McNeill
    • United States
    • Arkansas Supreme Court
    • November 18, 1996 repair leased premises, he cannot, in the absence of statute, be compelled to do so or be held liable for repairs. Stalter v. Akers, 303 Ark. 603, 798 S.W.2d 428 (1990); see also Majewski v. Cantrell, 293 Ark. 360, 737 S.W.2d 649 (1987); E. E. Terry, Inc. v. Cities of Helena & W. Helena,......
  • Thomas v. Stewart
    • United States
    • Arkansas Supreme Court
    • November 29, 2001
    ...argues that the situation is not akin to that presented in Hurst, but instead approximates more closely the facts in Stalter v. Akers, 303 Ark. 603, 798 S.W.2d 428 (1990). There, a third party, Mrs. Akers, was injured on the property of Jason and Laura Howard, who rented their house from Pa......
  • Hadder v. Heritage Hill Manor, Inc.
    • United States
    • Arkansas Court of Appeals
    • June 1, 2016
    ...legally as a “licensee” or an “invitee” as long as the third-party visitor is present with the consent of the tenant. Stalter v. Akers, 303 Ark. 603, 798 S.W.2d 428 (1990). In Stalter, our supreme court held that “the injured third party must establish a landlord's contractual duty to repai......
  • Ryan v. State
    • United States
    • Arkansas Supreme Court
    • November 12, 1990
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