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California court rules architects not liable for slip-and-fall injuries

Recently, the California Court of Appeals upheld the rule that architects are not liable for slip-and-fall accidents that occur in buildings of their design if their work on the property is complete, and the design defects were patent. The plaintiff in that case failed in her attempt to distinguish her case from the established doctrine of "completed and accepted" as it applies to liability in slip-and-fall accidents.

The case

The plaintiff, who appealed her case to the California Court of Appeals, slipped and fell on the stairs at a theater on the Santa Monica Community College District campus. In her suit, she claimed the stairs were defective because they were not properly lit and insufficiently marked and delineated. She named a number of defendants in her lawsuit, including the architectural firm that designed the theater.

The trial court ruled in favor of the architect on a motion for summary judgment. In making its ruling, the court looked to the "completed and accepted" doctrine that applies to the relationship between a property owner and an architect. Under the "completed and accepted" doctrine, an architect's liability for third-party injuries caused by a patent defect ends once the owner of the property signs off on the work. A patent defect is one where there is an obvious flaw in the product as opposed to a latent defect for which an architect can be held liable after acceptance of the work.

Applying the doctrine, the trial court held that the architect did not owe a "duty of care" to the plaintiff since the architect's work had been completed and accepted by Santa Monica Community College. The California Court of Appeals reviewed the case and affirmed the trial court's decision.

Slip-and-fall accident liability

Slip-and-fall accidents occur when someone slips, trips or falls on another's property. All sorts of things can cause slip-and-fall accidents, including cracks in sidewalks, torn carpeting and wet floors.

Liability for slip-and-fall accidents is included in the more general concept of premises liability, which governs how and when property owners can be held liable for third-party injuries that occur on their properties. Generally, in order to recover damages in such cases, the plaintiff needs to demonstrate that a "dangerous condition" caused the accident and that the owner of the property was aware of this condition.

In this case, leaving the issue of the architect's liability aside, the plaintiff needed to prove one of three things: 1) Santa Monica Community College caused the dangerous condition; 2.) the college knew the stairs were unsafe and did nothing to fix them; or 3.) the college should have known the stairs were dangerous because a reasonable person taking proper care of a facility would have discovered such a hazard and repaired it.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a slip-and-fall accident, it is advisable to contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can advocate on your behalf.

The trial team at Killackey Law Offices, A Professional Corporation is experienced in representing seriously injured plaintiffs in cases such as this. Should you like to speak with a member of our trial team, please call our office at (626) 281-4900 or (888) 388-8552 or email attorney Michael Killackey directly at mak@killackeylaw.com. We are ready to help.

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