Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Architect Not Liable for Slip-and-Fall Injuries—Court
Panel Says Stair Defect Was Patent, Excusing Contractor as a Matter of Law
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The “completed and accepted” doctrine excuses an architect from liability for defective design once the owner of the premises has signed off on the work, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
The court affirmed summary judgment in favor of Leo A. Daly Company, which designed the Main Stage Theatre building at Santa Monica Community College. Div. One agreed with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart Cole that Daly established an affirmative defense under the doctrine, barring Ellen Neiman’s suit as a matter of law.
Neiman sued following a 2008 fall. She alleged that she was seriously injured while walking down the stairs to find a seat some 20 minutes before a performance at the theater.
She named a number of defendants, including the college and 50 Does. She later amended the complaint to name Daly as one of the Doe defendants who had “negligently, recklessly and carelessly designed, manufactured, lit, constructed, inspected, managed and maintained the Main Stage” in that they failed “to adequately and sufficiently light the stairways of the Main Stage and to properly mark and delineate the stairs of the Main Stage.”
Neiman, in the course of the litigation, conceded that the injuries were not caused by any deficiency in Daly’s plans and specifications. The plaintiff instead alleged that the architect failed to warn the college that the stairs lacked contrast marking stripes, as called for in the plans, and that the lighting was deficient.
In moving for summary judgment, the architect contended it could not be held liable because its work was completed and accepted by the college long before Neiman’s fall. It thus could be held liable only for latent defects, Daly argued, and the defects complained of by Neiman were patent.
Cole agreed, rejecting Neiman’s contention that whether the defects were latent or patent was a triable question of fact.
Justice Victoria Chaney, writing for the Court of Appeal, noted that the issue of lighting was raised in the complaint but not argued on summary judgment, and was thus not an issue on appeal. As for the striping, Chaney said, the completed-and-accepted doctrine provided the defendant with a complete defense.
Citing the California Building Code and Sanchez v. Swinerton & Walberg Co. (1996) 47 Cal.App.4th 1461, the justice explained:
“The purpose of such striping is to ensure that ‘the location of each tread is readily apparent when viewed in descent.’…The stripes are designed to be seen by someone walking down the stairs. Thus, a reasonable inspection should disclose the striping called for in the plans and specifications is missing. There is no evidence indicating SMCCD, who contracted for the work and participated in the walk-through on June 15, 2006, did not have access to the plans and specifications. The alleged defect is ‘patent as a matter of law; it would be discovered by an inspection the owner would make in the exercise of ordinary care and prudence’…in ensuring that obvious safety measures called for in the plans and specifications were completed. This is not a concealed or hidden defect—a latent defect—which the owner would not discover by reasonable inspection.”
Attorneys on appeal were Gary M. Schneider for the plaintiff and Bradley Boyer, Stephanie A. Hingle and Courtney N. Conner of Kutak Rock for the defendant.
The case is Neiman v. Leo A. Day Company, B234537.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company