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Benham v. Morton & Furbish Agency

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine
929 A.2d 471 (2007)


Facts

In July 1999, Kathleen Benham (plaintiff) and her family rented a cottage in Maine. The cottage was owned by Aline and Rheal Caron (defendants), but the rental agreement was brokered by Morton & Furbish Agency (Morton & Furbish) (defendant). The Carons hired Morton & Furbish to sell the cottage, but allowed Morton & Furbish to rent it in the meantime, as long as renters were restricted from entering the cottage’s attic. Benham’s sister, Colleen Blevins, arranged to rent the cottage for two weeks without seeing it beforehand. Originally, Blevins contracted to rent a different cottage, but because the cottage was unavailable, Morton & Furbish unilaterally decided to provide the Carons’ cottage. Morton & Furbish supplied the linens, arranged for trash removal, and collected sales tax on the family’s use of the cottage. The family believed that they would use the cottage exclusively, with no one entering the cottage to clean or doing structural work on the cottage. Once the family arrived, they found the trapdoor to the attic was open. Benham began climbing the stairs and then turned around and began to descend. On her way down, she fell and sustained injuries. The ladder had been built by Rheal Caron and had no guard or handrails. Benham filed suit against the Carons and Morton & Furbish for negligent design of the stairs and the existence of a dangerous condition on the premises. The Superior Court granted motion for summary judgment in favor of Morton & Furbish and the Carons, ruling that a landlord and tenant relationship existed between the parties and that landlords are not liable for injuries caused by defective conditions in areas that are exclusively in the possession of a lessee.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Meade, J.)

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