This case involved a dispute between a homeowner and his homeowners association and the association’s management company over personal injury liability for injuries sustained by the homeowner when he fell as a result of a condition on a portion of the association’s common area. The homeowner, acting on his own without any involvement on the part of the association or management personnel, entered into a darkened storage area located in the association’s underground parking garage in search of a nozzle for a hose. Not knowing where the light switch was, he entered into the dark room and as he walked towards the back of the area where he believed he would locate a nozzle, he was in the process of attempting to activate the flashlight contained in his cell phone when he stepped into a partially uncovered sump pump causing him to fall and suffer serious shoulder injuries that subsequently required two surgeries.
The homeowner sued the homeowners association and its management company claiming that they were responsible for managing and maintaining the common areas of the complex and that by failing to properly cover the pit that contained the sump pump where he fell and by not having adequate lighting, they breached their duties to keep the common areas in good repair and free from hazards, to fix known hazards, and to warn of concealed dangers or dangers about which they had superior knowledge.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the association and its management company after finding that they owed no duty to warn against the danger associated with walking into a darkened area. The owner appealed contending that the trial court erred by not analyzing the “step-in-the-dark rule” that was relied upon to determine whether owner acted without knowledge, information or investigation as to what the darkness might conceal when he stepped into the darkened area of the garage.
The appellate court, in affirming the trial court’s judgment, articulated the duty that a homeowners association owes to association members relative to maintenance of the common areas that are controlled by the homeowners association. The court stated that owners in condominium complexes are considered “business invitees” in relation to the homeowners association and they are owed a duty of ordinary care in maintaining the common area in a reasonably safe condition and a duty to warn of latent or hidden dangers. The court further stated that a homeowners association does not have a duty to warn against “open and obvious conditions.” A hazard is considered open and obvious when it is in plain view and readily discoverable upon ordinary inspection. In applying this law to the facts of the case, the appellate court determined that the darkened area of the garage was an open and obvious condition and that the owner recognized the danger that is inherent in proceeding into the storage area in the darkness, yet voluntarily chose to do so anyway rather than wait until he activated the light on his cell phone. Accordingly, there was no liability for the injuries suffered by the owner.
Ohio Appellate Court decision (December 22, 2017)
See case decision: Hurst_v._Carriage_House_W._Condo._Owners_Assoc._Inc._2017_Ohio_9236_(Ohio_App._2017)1