Open House Lawsuits: Sellers Beware

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Last Updated: May 4, 2021
Open House Sign

Emily Hopkins was invited to an “Open House”, fell, then sued the agent

Not only do home owners have a duty to buyers and agents to have a safe home; agents and brokers likewise may have a degree of duty to insure that a home is safe for showing to clients.

Should a prospective buyer be injured at an open house or while touring a house, then he may sue the owner and possibly the agent. In example; Hopkins v. Fox and Lazo Realtors. As part of a good risk management program there are things that every agent should do.

Facts  Of  The  Case

Hopkins v. Fox and Lazo Realtors:  625 A.2d 1110.

Lawsuit - injury at Open House

A perspective buyer, Emily Hopkins accompanied by her son and daughter-in-law, were invited to an open house by an agent. When they first arrived at the home they were not welcomed at the door by the agent who had invited them. Therefore, they were left free to walk about the house unaccompanied. When they reached the kitchen they discovered the agent, said hello, and started a further inspection of the home.

Emily decided to view the bedroom section of the home while her son and daughter-in-law viewed the patio and back yard. The bedroom hallway had a one step, step down, about halfway down the hallway.

When Emily heard the kids re-entered the home she decided to join them. As she was walking down the hallway back to the kitchen she failed to see the step down. Each level of the hallway was covered by the same vinyl flooring with the same pattern. Mrs. Hopkins fall resulted in an injury and she sued

Court Gavel on top of law book

The Court Reasoned

The court reasoned that the property owner had a duty of reasonable care to guard against any hazardous conditions on his property. This has been a common-law doctrine back to the 19th century.

The court further reasoned that there were economic benefits received when a broker had a potential buyer visit a home. It reasoned that an open house presents an agent with an opportunity to meet and cultivate future clients as well. That the potential buyer enters the property at the broker’s invitation and may reasonably expect to be able to rely on and use the services offered by the broker in connection with the examination of the premises. The court concluded that the agents’ invitation to the perspective buyer made the agent partially responsible for the safety of the buyer while visiting the premises.

The court reasoned that it is foreseeable that a visitor to an open house could be injured by dangerous conditions while wandering through an unfamiliar house. That the potential buyer could reasonably expect that the broker was familiar with the premises and that they could rely on the brokers’ familiarity of the house to warn and protect them from any unforeseen dangers.

What Can An Agent Do to Reduce The Risk of Being Sued

1   Home owners in nearly every state have a basic legal responsibility to have their home in a safe condition. Should they have an unsafe condition, they have a responsibility to make the unsafe condition safe or to warn visitors of the unsafe condition. Failure to do so may lead to injury and / or litigation.

Therefore, the listing agent should discuss with the seller, that they may have some legal responsibility, should someone be injured.

2     Recommend to the seller that they do a safety check of their home. That they walk around the exterior and interior to see if they’re areas where someone could be injured. ( see a “Home Safety Checklist” )

3       As the listing agent, you should likewise walk around the home and check for safety risk. Should you encounter any, be sure to let the seller know in writing and recommend corrections. Also, consider providing a warning or warning sign to people who will be going through the home, including agents who will be showing the home. For example if there are rotted / damaged or missing steps; drop offs, or exposed hazardous electrical wires.

4     Recommend that the seller check his home owners’ insurance coverage to be sure he is covered for an accident and if there is pet dog, should the dog trip or bite someone, are they covered. ( Read more on Insurance and pet liability )

5    Suggest to the seller that they have a “Presale Home Inspection”. These inspections often identify unsafe conditions in a home, some of which, the seller or you may have overlooked. ( Read more on “Presale Home Inspections” )


Bottom Line

Hopkins v. Fox and Lazo, establishes the need for agents to walk around the property and conduct a reasonable and diligent review for possible dangers of areas where one might be injured. Additionally, they should advise the seller, as well as, warn prospective buyers and visitors of these dangers.

Legal Notice and Disclaimer
This article is not legal advice, nor intended to be so. Every condition and situation in a home is different. An attorney should be consulted regarding all legal issues and advice.

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A Safety Checklist That Ever Seller Should Do

Checklist for sellers

Sellers are not always aware that they have a legal responsibility to have a home that is safe for prospective buyers to visit.

One of the best things a buyer can do is to walk around the house, both the interior and exterior looking for ares or hazards where some one could get injured.

Using a checklist will help with this task and is often recommended by professional agents.

             See Checklist

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