A building owner has a duty to exercise reasonable care to repair the damaged property and to recognize and repair or remove a vice or defect in the building which presents an unreasonable risk of harm to others[i].
In determining whether a defect or unreasonable risk of harm is present, the jurisprudence notes that the defect must be of such a nature as to constitute a dangerous condition which would reasonably be expected to cause injury to a prudent person using ordinary care under the circumstances[ii].
Also, whether a building poses an unreasonable risk of injury to others is an issue that requires careful legal analysis to determine the scope of the duty or legal cause of the injury, relating or balancing the risk created by the thing with the social utility of the thing[iii].
In order to recover in strict liability against the owner of a dangerous building, the injured person must prove that the building or its appurtenances posed an unreasonable risk of injury to others and that his/her damage occurred through this risk[iv].
Upon proof of unreasonable risk, the owner is responsible for the damages, unless s/he proves that the damage was caused by the fault of the victim, by the fault of a third person, or by an irresistible force.
The owner is absolved from his/her strict liability neither by his/her ignorance of the condition of the building, nor by circumstances that the defect could not easily be detected.
The owner of a public building is liable for[v]:
- structural defects; and
- unsafe conditions associated with the structure of the building.
A structural defect is a hazardous condition inherent in the structure by reason of its design or structure[vi]. A property owner is liable for injuries caused by structural defects regardless of whether s/he knows or should have known that the defect exists. Examples of a structural defect include: the failure to install a handrail along a staircase, a hole in a roof without a surrounding railing, and a false ceiling that does not support a person’s weight.
An unsafe condition associated with the structure of the building arises when an originally safe structure is not properly repaired or maintained. A property owner must have actual or constructive notice of the defect to be liable for an unsafe condition associated with the structure of the building. Examples of an unsafe condition associated with the structure include improper lighting, a loose window screen, and a missing theater seat.
The owner of a building cannot be held responsible for all injuries resulting from any risk posed by his/her building, only those caused by an unreasonable risk of harm to others[vii]. The defect must be of such a nature as to constitute a dangerous condition which would reasonably be expected to cause injury to a prudent person using ordinary care under the circumstances.
Thus the duty which a landowner owes to persons entering his/her property is governed by a standard of reasonableness, and a potentially dangerous condition that should be obvious to all is not unreasonably dangerous[viii]. Where a risk of harm is obvious, universally known, and easily avoidable, the risk is not unreasonable.
Similarly, the owner of a building is liable only when the ruin is the result of the owner’s neglect or failure to repair or when the ruin is caused by a flaw in original construction[ix].
[i] Jackson v. Gardiner, 785 So. 2d 981 (La.App. 2 Cir. Apr. 4, 2001).
[iii] Wilson v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 448 So. 2d 829, 832 (La.App. 2 Cir. 1984).
[iv] Entrevia v. Hood, 427 So. 2d 1146, 1148 (La. 1983).
[v] Rizzuto v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 2003 WI App 59 (Wis. Ct. App. 2003).
[vii] Robertson v. State ex rel. Department of Planning & Control, 747 So. 2d 1276 (La.App. 2 Cir. Dec. 10, 1999).
[viii] Jackson v. Gardiner, 785 So. 2d 981 (La.App. 2 Cir. Apr. 4, 2001).
[ix] Gorton v. Ouachita Parish Police Jury, 814 So. 2d 95 (La.App. 2 Cir. Apr. 3, 2002).