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Premises Liability and the Duty to Warn about Open and Obviously Dangerous Conditions

I’ve written many times about how the case of Rowland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal 2d. 108 established that landowners have a duty to maintain their property in a non-negligent fashion and protect those on their property from foreseeable harm.  A recent case, takes up the issue of foreseeable harm. (see (Montes v. Young Men’s Christian Assn. of Glendale, California (Aug. 3, 2022, No. B309454) ___Cal.App.5th___ [2022 Cal. App. LEXIS 677]).

Abel Montes, Jr., fell to his death from the steep, sloped roof of a residential building where he lived. The building was owned by Young Men’s Christian Association of Glendale, California (YMCA or defendant). Mr. Montes had been drinking and had eaten a marijuana brownie earlier, was feeling high, and had been acting erratically before the fall.

Mr. Montes was a 23-year-old resident of defendant’s apartment building in Glendale. He attended a birthday party on New Year’s Eve 2015, where he was seen drinking beer and some champagne. A coworker drove Mr. Montes home from the party, and he arrived in the lobby of the building at about 2:00 a.m. He told the desk clerk he had eaten a brownie, was not feeling well, and was “high.” He declined the desk clerk’s offer to call 911 and said he would go to his room.

At about 6:00 a.m., the clerk looked outside and discovered Mr. Montes lying on the hood of his (clerk’s) car. He was still alive. 911 was called but Mr. Montes was pronounced dead shortly thereafer.

Mr. Montes’s parents, Abel Montes, Sr., and Angela Reisner, individually, and his father as the administrator of his estate, filed this wrongful death and survival action.

In August 2019, defendant moved for summary judgment or alternatively summary adjudication. Defendant contended plaintiffs had no evidence of a dangerous condition on the premises, or that any dangerous condition caused the incident, or that defendant had a duty to prevent the incident.

On appeal, the Second District Court of Appeal agreed, holding:

“In a case in which a decedent fell to his death from the steep, sloped roof of a residential building where he lived, the appellate court concluded that defendant owed no duty of care to the decedent, and that the decedent’s parents could not prevail on their wrongful death claims based on premises liability and negligence.”

“The danger from the steeply sloping roof with its broken Spanish tiles was open and obvious, and neither party contended otherwise. Nor did the decedent’s parents contend the decedent had a practical necessity to be on the roof. There were no other circumstances in this case that might explain why it was reasonably foreseeable the decedent might choose to venture onto a steep sloping roof that was obviously dangerous. The parents could not use the decedent’s voluntarily induced state of intoxication to claim that he was unaware of the obvious peril.

(Montes v. Young Men’s Christian Assn. of Glendale, California (Aug. 3, 2022, No. B309454) ___Cal.App.5th___ [2022 Cal. App. LEXIS 677, at *1] [emphasis added]).

Heiting & Irwin has handled countless premises liability cases, including falls, over the 40+ years they’ve been in practice.  If you or a loved one has been injured on the property of another and you think you might have a premises liability case, call us today at (951) 682-6400, or visit us online at www.hilegalgroup.com.

Mr. Serrano has been admitted to practice before California State and Federal Courts. He was named to the Super Lawyers’ 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 Southern California Rising Stars List, an honor awarded to no more than 2.5% of attorneys in Southern California each year. View Attorney Jean-Simon Serrano's Attorney Bio Here.

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