Naming Potential Parties to the Slip and Fall Lawsuit | Control of the Premises
The manager of the apartment building, or the owner or agent of the premises is probably a proper party to the eventual lawsuit, should one ever be necessary. You should also consider naming the tenant if there is likely to be a question of control of the premises; also, the builder of the property may also be a proper party if the defect is an integral part of the apartment building, since the builder likely had control of the premises when the defect occurred. California carries a 10 year statute of limitations for injuries due to "latent defects" (or defects not easily seen upon reasonable inspection). This is different from a "patent defect" which is an open and obvious danger. However, when the possession of the building passes from the builder to the property owner, and the building is accepted by the property owner, then the builder's liability is limited to only latent defects that cannot be readily determined or identified by the property owner.
Latent Defect v. Patent Defect
Under common law, the builder's legal liability is extinguished to third parties when the owner has accepted the building. This exemption does not apply to those hazards that are latent in nature. The context of patent defect "refers to the patency of danger and not merely the exterior visibility." While the condition may be patent, the danger may not be known or appreciated by the reasonable person, therefore it is considered latent. Some model codes, such as the Uniform Building Code at Section 3402 or the International Building Code at Section 3401.2, require that the owner of the property or his or her designated agent be responsible for the care and maintenance of a building or structure. This obligation may apply even though the property owner does not have possession and control.
What is interesting in regards to control of the premises is in May 1996, the Second District California Court of Appeal extended the duty to inspect and correct building or structure defects even further. In Lopez v. Superior Court, 45 Cal. App. 4th 705 (Cal. App. 1996), a non-possessory landowner moved for summary judgment based on a lack of notice and lack of possession of the demised property/structure. The court held that the landlord was not entitled to summary judgment since he had reserved the right to enter the premises at any time. A landlord owes a duty of care to a tenant to provide and maintain safe conditions on the leased premises.This duty also extends to the general public. The court went on to find the hazard was due to a common condition (produce on the floor of a market) and the reserved right of the landlord to inspect also fixed a duty to abate or stop reasonably foreseeable hazards or dangers on the floor.
You see? Control of the premises is a very important question in a California slip and fall case. The question will always come down to who had the better position to inspect for reasonable dangers that are easily seen or not so easily seen. It is the owner of the property number one, and then who had control of the premises? The above is the journey a California court would take in a slip and fall case.