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Pinda Hall et al v. Aurora Loan Services LLC et al

April 26, 2013

PINDA HALL ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
AURORA LOAN SERVICES LLC ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



Trial Court: Contra Costa County Superior Court Trial Judge: Honorable Judith S. Craddick Super. Ct. No. C10-00053)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Humes, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

(Contra Costa County

Appellant Pinda Hall is a real estate agent who was injured while showing prospective buyers a house for sale at 5 Greene Place, Lafayette. She and her husband sued the owner and the listing agents for negligence, premises liability, and loss of consortium. The trial court entered summary judgment in defendants' favor. We reverse. We conclude that there are triable issues whether defendants had actual or constructive knowledge of a concealed dangerous condition and satisfied their duty to notify Hall of it.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

At the time Hall was injured, the house was owned by respondent Aurora Loan Services LLC (Aurora) after having been foreclosed upon. In early May 2009, Aurora listed the property for sale through respondents Rockcliff Realty, with Jon Wood and Holly Sibley as the listing agents (collectively, the "listing agents"). Between the time the property was listed and the date Hall was injured, the house was visited by scores of real estate agents and potential buyers, perhaps more than 100.

One of the features of the house was an attic that had been converted into a "bonus room" by a previous owner. This room was accessed by using a pull-down stairway ladder, which was hinged and braced with metal brackets. When raised, it folded, retracted, and recessed into the attic's opening. Wood had used the stairway ladder once to climb into the attic room before he listed the house and had not observed anything wrong with it. Although he could not remember if he pulled down or retracted the stairway ladder on that visit, he recalled operating it on subsequent visits without incident.

In late May 2009, the house was inspected by a licensed contractor, Christopher Trent, who prepared a report titled "Estimate for Repairs." This report appears to have been prepared to show the estimated cost of repairing a number of basic aesthetic and safety shortcomings. Trent sent copies of the report to Wood, Sibley, and a bank loan officer.

In the report, Trent listed more than 50 items needing repair under a heading entitled "Health and Safety Required Repairs-Group 1." This list commingled cosmetic or minor items (e.g., "Minor Drywall patch and touchup paint," "Remove and Replace Carpet," "Install shower head") with health and safety items (e.g., "Mold Abatement and Air test," "Repair deck at edge-trip hazard," "Install smoke detector"). One of the listed items was "Stair-Remove and replace attic stair." Other than the report, the listing agents received no information or complaints about a potential defect in the stairway ladder.

Hall showed the home to two of her clients on August 1, 2009. She knew there was an attic bonus room before she arrived, and a copy of Trent's report was on the kitchen counter. When Hall and her clients came upon the stairway ladder, it was in the down position. She visually inspected the ladder and thought it looked safe, but she was nonetheless reluctant to climb it. She told her clients to be careful as they used the ladder. Hall followed her clients up the ladder, but as she reached the point where she could look into the attic, a hinge broke, the ladder failed, and she fell. The fall fractured her right leg and injured her knees.

Hall and her husband filed a complaint that included three causes of action: (1) general negligence; (2) premises liability; and (3) loss of consortium. They named as defendants Aurora and the listing agents. The listing agents moved for summary judgment first. They argued that the undisputed facts showed they had no notice or knowledge of a defect in the stairway ladder and were therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The trial court agreed and entered summary judgment in their favor.

Aurora then filed a separate motion for summary judgment on the same ground. Hall and her husband made a slightly different evidentiary showing in opposing Aurora's motion. Nonetheless, the trial court granted Aurora's motion for the same reasons it granted the listing agents' motion.

Hall and her husband filed separate appeals from the two orders. In a prior order, we deemed their appeal of the summary judgment granted in favor of Aurora timely even though it was filed before judgment was formally entered. (See Cal. Rules ...


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