A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Owner of Vacation Home May be Liable to Renter for Fall on Stairwell Even if Design Complied with Construction Codes

By on February 20, 2015 in Blog with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Frank Danley rented a vacation home in Long Beach from Pasquale Pappalardo. The home had been recently renovated to add a third floor space which was accessible by an eight-step interior staircase. The plaintiff was talking to a friend standing in the kitchen and, while walking along the counter, missed the one step that led to the landing, fell down the stairs and was injured. In Danley v. Pappalardo, 2015 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 231(App. Div. February 9, 2015, he sued the defendant for his injuries. The issue was whether the defendant could be liable if the design of the stairs complied with the construction codes.

Both parties retained experts. The plaintiff’s expert opined that the design of the single step leading to the landing at the top of the stairs, because it was located along the open kitchen counter, was a hazard. He contended that handrails and a warning sign should have been installed.

The defendant’s expert disagreed, pointing out that the design conformed to the New Jersey Residential and Rehab Codes. Thus, the addition met the State’s specified criterion for public health and safety.

While the trial court granted summary judgment, dismissing the complaint, the Appellate Division disagreed with this decision. The appeals court found that compliance with applicable building codes and the issuance of certificates of occupancy were not dispositive of a lessor’s duty of care. The Appellate Division held that there was nothing in the Uniform Construction Code that expressed an intent to circumscribe tort liability for design defects only in those instances where it is alleged that the site violated the Code.

Thus, the appeals court held that the defendant’s compliance with construction codes and procurement of a certificate of occupancy does not bar the imposition of a duty of care, which requires more. Thus, a jury question existed as to the defendant’s liability, precluding the grant of summary judgment.

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Betsy G. Ramos

About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

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