Premises Liability: Concealed Dangerous Conditions

Hall v. Aurora Loan Services LLC (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 1134, 155 Cal.Rptr.3d 739

A real estate agent who fractured her leg when a stairway ladder broke while she was showing a house to prospective buyers, filed suit for personal injuries against the loan services company which owned the property, as well as the listing agents. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants had been negligent in failing to disclose to visitors the concealed dangerous condition, because a licensed contractor who had inspected the house a few months earlier had written a report stating “remove and replace attic stair.”

The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that they had no notice or knowledge of a defect in the stairway, in that the report did not express any safety concerns about the stairway ladder.  The contractor himself had testified the ladder did not appear to be dangerous, and that if there had been a problem other than with its appearance he would have noted it in his report. The trial court granted summary judgment but the court of appeal reversed, holding that triable issues of fact remained as to whether the defendants should have known the ladder was a concealed danger:

This report raises a question as to whether the listing agents knew or should have known that the stairway ladder might have been in disrepair. It is true, as Aurora and the listing agents point out, that the recommendation to remove and replace the stairway ladder was buried in a long list of suggestions for mostly ordinary or cosmetic repairs. But the recommendation to replace the stairway ladder suggests at least the possibility that it was worn or broken. For all the listing agents knew at the time, Trent recommended the stairway ladder be replaced because he believed it would soon collapse. Yet there is no indication in the record that the listing agents did anything to follow up with Trent about the reasons for his recommendation or to inquire further into the stairway ladder’s safety….

[A] jury could conclude that a reasonable person who received the report might have believed that the stairway ladder needed to be replaced because it was in disrepair. To begin with, a fair review of Trent’s deposition testimony reveals that he could not remember exactly why he listed the stairway ladder as a health and safety issue and that he did not rule out the possibility that it was included in the list partly for safety concerns. Furthermore, as mentioned above, the recommendation to replace the stairway ladder was included in the report’s section entitled “Health and Safety Required Repairs–Group 1,” which at the very least suggests the possibility of a safety problem. Aurora and the listing agents cannot claim, based on Trent’s explanations given long after the accident, that they had no reason to believe that the stairway ladder might be dangerous at the time of the accident.

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