A dentist who slipped and fell on a patch of ice outside his office may pursue a negligence and personal-injury lawsuit against his professional corporation’s landlord, the Court of Appeals affirmed Tuesday.
Landowner Meridian North Investments was denied summary judgment by the trial court and challenged that ruling in an interlocutory appeal. Meridian North claimed that because dentist Anoop Sondhi signed a lease for his practice that contained an exculpatory non-liability clause, he could not sue.
“No Indiana case has directly addressed a situation such as the one here,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote for the panel. “New York, however, follows Indiana’s rule regarding the unenforceability of lease exculpatory clauses against third parties; that state’s highest court did, some time ago, address a situation very similar to this one in Griffen v. Manice, 59 N.E. 925 (N.Y. 1901).”
That case involved a corporation secretary who signed a lease containing an exculpatory clause that the building owner sought to enforce after the secretary died in an elevator crash. Along with the Griffen case, the panel also cited Indiana Supreme Court jurisprudence holding, “A person cannot limit his or her tort law duty to third parties by contract.”
Because Sondhi signed the lease in his capacity as a principal of Sondhi-Biggs Orthodontics P.C., he individually was a third party to the lease, the court ruled in Meridian North Investments LP v. Anoop Sondhi DDS, MS, 49A02-1405-PL-311.
“What Meridian North’s argument boils down to is that Dr. Sondhi and Sondhi-Biggs are interchangeable because Sondhi-Biggs is a small professional corporation for Dr. Sondhi’s practice of orthodontics that Dr. Sondhi founded, that bears Dr. Sondhi’s name, and of which Dr. Sondhi is president,” Barnes wrote.
“If we accepted this argument, the corporate form of numerous professional corporations in this state, such as medical and legal practices, could and would be ignored routinely. That is not a tenable result, and it is contrary to the laws providing for the creation of such corporations and their recognition as legal entities separate from their creators, shareholders, and officers.”