Defendants Entitled to Summary Judgment When Plaintiff Failed to Show Stair Posed Dangerous Defect and Defendants Had Notice of Such Defect, According to California Law

In a lawsuit for negligence and premises liability, the California Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants because they had no notice of the allegedly dangerous condition.  In this opinion, the court analyzed the elements of a premises liability claim and assessed whether the plaintiff had met her burden of showing that the defendants had notice of the allegedly dangerous step in their home.

The plaintiff in this case was touring a home offered for sale when she fell on a stair and injured herself. The stair was one step down into a living room, approximately 5.6 inches in elevation change. At the time of her fall, the defendants, including the homeowners and their real estate agents, were not in the house.  In her complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants (the real estate agent, as well as her husband, a broker) knew or should have known that the dangerous condition (which was the step-down change in elevation of a single stair) created an unreasonable risk of harm.  Her complaint alleged that the defendants failed to remedy the condition or failed to adequately warn of the condition. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the ground that the step was open and obvious, and the defendants did not have a duty to warn.  They also contended that the step had not presented any danger, and they had no notice of any dangerous condition.

The trial court entered summary judgment for the defendants, persuaded that the homeowners did not have notice that the step inside their home constituted a dangerous condition requiring a warning. As a result, the court found they had no duty, and the other real estate defendants should be granted summary judgment.

On appeal, the court stated that the defendants did not have a duty to warn of any danger posed by the stair, since any danger posed was open and obvious.  The court also stated there was no triable issue of fact regarding whether the homeowners had notice that the step was a dangerous condition.

Regarding premises liability, the rule is that property owners must maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition. A plaintiff alleging liability for negligence caused by a dangerous condition of property must prove duty, breach, causation, and damages. While there is no duty to warn of obvious dangers on property, when a danger is so obvious that a person could reasonably be expected to see the danger, the condition itself is a warning, and the landowner needs to remedy or warn of the condition.

The photographs depicting the stair, according to the court, showed that the stair was open and obvious as a matter of law.  The plaintiff had not alleged that the stair was defectively constructed or that it had been slippery due to a foreign substance.  If the step was open and obvious, the court stated, there cannot be a danger arising from it.

Furthermore, the court stated that even if the stair was obviously dangerous, the defendants had no knowledge of its dangerousness.  The burden was on the plaintiff to show there was a triable issue of fact regarding notice.

In conclusion, the court stated that since the step was open and obvious, and there was no notice of any dangerousness, summary judgment was appropriate.

At Sharifi Firm, we help individuals and families throughout Southern California pursue their right to compensation from at-fault parties. Our skilled premises liability attorneys provide a free consultation and are prepared to discuss your case.  Contact our office by calling 866-422-7222 or online.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds in Favor of City of Los Angeles Because Plaintiff Had Not Shown City Knew of Allegedly Defective Sidewalk that Caused Injuries, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, January 5, 2017

California Court of Appeal Holds Plaintiff Failed to Show California Restaurant Owner Had a Duty to Take Preventative Measures to Protect Against Third-Party Harm to Plaintiff, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, December 12, 2016

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