Individual homeowners, and homeowner’s associations (and HOA management companies), should continue to pay close attention to property conditions that may pose a significant risk of injury to guests and visitors.
No one is perfect, right? Still haven’t gotten around to inspecting your property and repairing every minor or insignificant defect that could possibly cause a personal injury to someone who may visit your home?
If this describes you and your home, you are likely the “imperfect” homeowner the court of appeal was thinking about when it issued its opinion on the issue of premises liability in the case of Cadam v. Somerset Gardens Townhouse HOA, (Oct. 31, 2011) 2011 DJDAR 15830.
In 2006, Cadam (plaintiff) leased a townhouse within Somerset Gardens, a 93 unit townhouse, governed by a homeowner’s association. While walking on a concrete walkway between her front door and driveway, she caught her foot in a walkway separation, fell and sustained significant personal injuries. The walkway separation was less than an inch in depth and there was no protrusion from the separation.
Cadam subsequently sued the homeowner’s association as well as the homeowner’s association management company for premises liability and negligence. At trial, the jury returned a substantial monetary verdict in favor of Cadam and against both defendants. Defendants filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which was granted by the trial judge. The basis of the trial court’s ruling in favor of the defendants was that the defect was “trivial” and “minor” and that the jury’s verdict was not supported by the law or the facts.
On appeal, the reviewing court affirmed the trial court’s ruling, holding “that it is well settled law that a property owner is not liable for damages caused by a minor, trivial, or insignificant defect in his property.” This principle is sometimes referred to as the “trivial defect defense.”
The trivial defect defense provides that persons who maintain walkways – whether public or private – are not required to maintain them in absolutely perfect condition. The duty of care imposed on a property owner, even one with actual notice, does not require the repair of minor defects. Additionally, pedestrians have a duty to be on the lookout for minor defects that can easily be avoided to protect their own safety.
Individual homeowners, homeowner’s associations and HOA management companies should continue to pay close attention to property conditions that may pose a significant risk of injury to guests and visitors. However, as the reviewing court in Cadam held, no one is perfect, so don’t sweat the “minor” “trivial” or “insignificant” stuff.
The California real estate attorneys at Reid & Hellyer have extensive experience in advising and assisting homeowners and homeowner’s associations with their real property needs. We would be pleased to assist you.
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