Premises liability suits allow those injured while on the property of another to seek recovery for damages if the property owner is negligent. In Jacobs v. Coldwell Banker Residential, the victim brought a claim after being injured in a swimming pool accident. The plaintiff visited a home owned by a bank that they were interested in purchasing. An inspector had recently checked the entire property for any potentially dangerous conditions, which included the empty swimming pool and attached diving board.
During the tour of the home, the plaintiff stood on the diving board to get a better view for several minutes when suddenly the board collapsed sending him crashing into the waterless pool. After sustaining some severe injuries, the plaintiff brought a premises liability claim based on negligence. Coldwell requested a summary judgment based on the unforeseeable nature of the accident and that they had conducted an inspection prior that showed no damage to the diving board. The court granted their motion leading to an appeal, which upheld the decision.
To accurately determine liability in the matter, the court considered the state's premises liability provisions. For a defendant to be deemed liable for injuries on their property, the occurrence must be one that was reasonably foreseeable. Other elements necessary to prove negligence include:
- The party who owns or controls the property has a duty to maintain ordinary care or safety for those on the property
- If dangerous or hazardous conditions exist that the owner is aware of (or should have been), then a duty to provide warning exists
- The plaintiff's ability to prevail is predicated on proving that the accident was a result of a failure to warn
- The damages that occurred must be a result of the owner's failure or breach of their duty to care
Overview of California Premises Liability Laws
Accidents are typically not subject to the foreseeability of the dangerous condition if deemed to be “open and obvious”, meaning that a reasonable individual would recognize the hazard. The state employs the doctrine of comparative negligence meaning that if the plaintiff partially contributed to the accident by demonstrating some degree of negligence, they are still eligible for recovery. This means that any award for damages is reduced by the percentage of negligence that is allocated to the plaintiff.
Dangers that are considered to be unavoidable require that the owner prohibit access to the property. In addition, the owner may be immune from liability if it can be proven that they were not aware of the hazard. When attempting to determine whether the owner knew (or should have known) that a dangerous condition existed, it is the job of a jury to decide.