In a recent decision, a California appellate court held that an architect could not be held liable for a trip and fall accident after a projected was "completed and accepted" by the property owner, so long as certain other conditions are met. The rule reiterated by this decision is that a contractor on a construction project cannot be responsible for a dangerous condition they create, if the danger should be apparent to the the property owner who accepts the work prior to the accident. In other words, once the property owner has accepted a contractor's work, no matter how poor it might be, the owner will be the party liable for any injuries and damages resulting from a condition they should have discovered. (Neiman v. Leo A. Daly Co., (2012) 210 Cal. App. 4th 962)
Implications of The Neiman Decision
While the "completed and accepted" doctrine has been the law for some time in California, the Neiman decision appears to be the first case to extend the defense to an architect on a construction project. In the case, the Plaintiff suffered serious injuries when she fell on steps in a theater owned and operated by a community college. The treads were designed to have stripes in order to make them more visible to patrons while descending the stairs. In spite of the fact the Defendant (architect) oversaw the construction and should have noticed the stripes were missing, the appellate court basically "shifted" the responsibility to the community college district (premises owner) because the defect was patent, one that could have and should have been discovered upon reasonable inspection. While the Plaintiff in the Neiman case was not left without a remedy, the suit against a public entity is nearly always more difficult than one against a private firm, like the architecture firm in this case.
Premises liability lawsuits arising from a construction or design defect can be difficult to successfully prosecute against the landowner. For one thing, if the condition has been in existence for a meaningful period of time and there have been very few or no related accidents, the defense will almost always use this as an argument that the condition was at least reasonably safe. The counter to this is to establish, where possible, a violation of the applicable building code. In the case above, the California Code of Regulations sets forth a number of rules and requirements relative to stairways. A violation of those provisions may provide the basis for a solid negligence claim against the landowner, for allowing a statutory violation to exist on their property.
Falls and Injuries From Defective Construction
If a construction defect has caused serious injuries to you or a loved one, consultation with an experienced Orange County Personal Injury Attorney can help you better understand your rights. Construction accidents often having devastating consequences and leave the victim with lifelong disabilities. Compensation for those injuries and damages often require the filing of a lawsuit and substantial litigation, best navigated by an attorney who has handled numerous such cases, from investigation through trial.