Obviously, a homeowner never wants to be sued in a personal injury lawsuit arising out of an accident on his or her property. Unfortunately, simply owning the property is enough to place a duty of care onto the owner of the property to maintain it in a safe condition. This duty of care extends to anyone that may come onto the property for any reason, whether a homeowner knows of their presence or not.
On August 23, 2017, the Court affirmed the trial court’s order denying the defendants motion for summary judgment in Gallardo v. Gilbert, 2017 Slip Op 06256 (2d Dept. 2017). The plaintiff was at the defendants’ home to perform cleaning services, including cleaning out the attic above the garage. While in the attic, plaintiff stepped from a plywood landing, and fell through the sheetrock ceiling of the garage below sustaining injuries.
The Court upheld the standard that a homeowner has a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. The only time in which a homeowner does not have a duty is when a condition is open, obvious and not inherently dangerous.
The defendant homeowners argued that plaintiff stepped onto a portion of the attic that did not have the plywood to step on and that the danger of falling through the sheetrock ceiling was open, obvious and not inherently dangerous. The Court found that the homeowners failed to establish that the insufficient weight-bearing capacity of the sheetrock ceiling was open, obvious and not inherently dangerous as a matter of law. In fact, the condition may have constituted a “trap,” making an injury all the more foreseeable.
In our practice, we come across of claims just like this one, where an invitee was injured in a client’s. With the Court continuing to uphold the stringent duty to maintain a private home, the uphill battle to get these cases dismissed continues getting steeper. Sadly, all invitees should be regarded as potential claimants. (Sometimes, the advice of defense counsel isn’t as neighborly as we would like!) Thanks to Dana Purcaro for her contribution to this post. Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.