No Liability for Client's Injuries

A home owner and two real estate professionals were not liable for a customer's injuries when she fell down stairs at the owner's house, an Indiana court ruled.

June 1, 2009

In the case, Campbell v. Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, a prospective buyer was touring a home when she opened a door near the kitchen. She assumed the door led to a pantry, but it actually led to basement stairs. Upon opening the door and feeling for a light switch, she lost her balance and fell down the stairs. Although there was a switch near the door, the light wasn’t working.

The customer sued the owner and the sales associates for failing to exercise reasonable care by warning her of the staircase. The court ruled that the owner had no duty to warn the customer because the staircase wasn’t a hidden defect—and in any case, the customer didn’t fall because of the broken light. Instead, as the customer had testified, she fell because she lost her balance. Thus, it didn’t matter whether or not the stairs were dark and unlit; the condition of the property had nothing to do with her injuries.

The court also ruled that the real estate professionals had a duty to warn the customer only about hidden property dangers of which they were aware. Since the stairway was not a hidden defect and posed no risk of harm, they had no duty to warn her about it. The buyer’s rep moved to have the incurred attorney costs paid by the customer, but the court dismissed that motion. Attorney costs are paid in frivolous cases, and this case didn’t rise to the high standard for frivolousness, the court said.

Robert Freedman

Robert Freedman is the former director of multimedia communications at NAR.