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Landlord had no duty to check on tenant’s welfare

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//April 1, 2021

Landlord had no duty to check on tenant’s welfare

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//April 1, 2021

Even though one of defendant landlord’s employees reported to other employees that he saw plaintiff tenant sitting in his apartment bathroom “‘not very alert’ and potentially ‘ill,’” there was no duty to check on plaintiff’s welfare.

As a result, the landlord and the employee are granted summary judgment of plaintiff’s suit for injuries sustained when he was wedged between the sink and toilet until his daughter discovered him three days later.


Plaintiff Watts leased an apartment from Culpepper Gardens. He chose a voluntary meal plan, under which Culpepper would allow tenants to eat two meals a day in a dining area. Watts would “typically” have breakfast and dinner every day.

Sometime on the evening of Jan. 24, or the morning of Jan. 25, 2018, Watts became struck between the sink and the toilet of the apartment’s bathroom. “This incident prevented Watts from attending either breakfast or dinner on January 25, 2018.”

Madan, a Culpepper employee, went to check on Watts after dinner. He saw Watts sitting in his apartment bathroom “‘not very alert’ and potentially ‘ill.’” Madan emailed fellow employees and reported what he saw. His email advised that he was off work the next day “and that he would ‘feel better if someone looked in on [Watts]  briefly.’ … In the following days, no other employee … went to check on him.”

Watts’ daughter came to Culpepper to visit with him for breakfast on Jan. 27. After learning that Watts had not been to a meal since Jan. 24, she went to his apartment and found him still wedged between the sink and the toilet. Medical help was summoned. Watts was taken to a hospital for treatment.

Watts sued for his injuries. Defendants have moved for summary judgment.

No duty

“The relationship between the parties arose from a lease, thus, they are landlord and tenant. … Watts did not argue a special duty owed to him though the lease provisions or that any duty resulted from written policies Culpepper had adopted.

“Nevertheless, Watts argued that Culpepper breached its duty of care to Watts by failing to follow up with Watts after its employee witnessed Watts’ condition.

“Virginia courts ‘have consistently rejected the contention that the relationship of landlord and tenant, without more, constitutes a special relationship such that a duty of care may arise.’ … At common law, there was no general duty to rescue.

“Here, the employee did not cause Watts to become stuck or place him in harm’s way and then fail to provide any assistance. Culpepper allegedly failed to render assistance after the employee sent an email regarding Watts’ condition.

“Watts argued a general duty of care without alleging sufficient facts demonstrating either a relationship through which a duty arose or that Culpepper assumed a duty. Watts does not allege that the Madan or Culpepper took control of Watts. …

“Of all the duties required of Culpepper under the lease agreement, not one required any employee to check on a tenant or render assistance. The Culpepper employee was not required to check on Watts and the law does not support the assumption of a duty by their doing so.

“Had the employee not checked on Watts, the reasonable inference from the record shows Watts would not have been in a worse circumstance. The landlord-tenant relationship simply did not give rise to a duty necessary for this action to proceed.”

Case dismissed.

Watts v. Arlington Retirement Housing Corp., t/a Culpepper Garden, et al,, Case No. CL 20-235(00), March 26, 2021, Arlington County Cir. Ct. (Fiore) Memorandum Opinion. VLW 021-8-048, 4 pp.

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