Tenant’s Failure to Use Existing Lighting Unravels Slip-and-Fall Injury Case

A residential tenant failed in her effort to hold a property owner’s trustee liable for injuries she suffered for a fall in the dark. In Castellon v. US Bancorp, the court determined that the trustee was not liable because the tenant’s injuries arose not from the existence of an unsafe condition, but because the tenant chose to exit her residence at night without first turning on the light that illuminated the area where the tenant fell.

Yanira Garcia Ramirez Castellon rented a room in a detached garage on a property owned by the Luis Villalobos trust. Maria Luisa Hernandez, Villalobos’ mother, lived in the property’s main residence. Late one night, the tenant slipped and fell on the steps outside the door leading from her room. The tenant sued US Bancorp, the trust’s trustee, for negligence and premises liability, arguing that the steps were a dangerous condition. To constitute a dangerous condition under California law, a condition must pose an unreasonable risk of harm, the property owner (or in the tenant’s case, the trustee) must have known, or reasonably should have known, about it, and must have failed to either repair the problem, provide a sufficient warning or otherwise protect against the danger.

The trustee sought summary judgment, arguing that no dangerous condition existed. The trustee asserted that the tenant knew it was dark outside, and that a working light existed outside the door, but that she failed to turn the light on because she could not locate the switch. Furthermore, the trustee alleged that the tenant had access to another exit, but chose not to use it.

The trial court agreed with the trustee and granted summary judgment. The tenant appealed, but the California Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s ruling. The facts introduced at trial, the court determined, simply did not add up to premises liability or negligence by the trustee. The tenant’s improper lighting assertion failed because the area near the top of the steps had a working light. Hernandez had told the tenant to turn the light on, and immediately after the tenant fell, Hernandez successfully illuminated that light. Although the tenant allegedly requested help finding the switch, she chose to exit in the dark before help arrived. As a result, the trustee could not be held personally responsible for the injuries the tenant suffered.

The tenant also came up short on her claim that Hernandez was the trustee’s agent and that the trustee was liable for Hernandez’s misconduct. The tenant’s evidence, demonstrating that Hernandez was on the trust’s board and was the mother of the trust’s beneficiary, was not enough to establish that she was an agent of the trustee.

Many aspects go into seeking compensation for one’s personal injuries suffered in an accident, including identifying the person or entity responsible and the relative strength or weakness of essential elements of your case, such as a property’s unsafe condition. To obtain thoughtful, straightforward and knowledgeable advice about your potential case arising from the injuries you suffered in an accident, consult the Oakland personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch can help you assess your case, and provide skill and zealous representation should you decide to go to trial. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

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