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Massachusetts Court Discusses Duty to Disclose Hidden Defects in a Premises Liability Case

Under Massachusetts law, a property owner has a duty to keep the property in a safe condition to prevent the harm of individuals entering the property. When a property owner breaches this duty and a person is injured due to a dangerous condition, the property owner may be liable for the injured person’s harm. In some instances, a dangerous condition will clearly constitute a breach of the duty to keep a property reasonably safe, but in other cases, such as when a person is injured due to a hidden defect, it may not be clear if the property owner should be held liable. Recently the Appeals Court of Massachusetts analyzed a property owners’ duty to disclose hidden defects in a case in which a contractor was injured when he fell through a roof that was structurally unsound. If you suffered injuries due to a hidden defect on a Massachusetts property it is vital to engage a skillful Massachusetts personal injury attorney to assist you in seeking any compensation you may be owed from the landowner.

Facts Regarding the Injured Party’s Fall

It is reported that the plaintiff was hired by the defendant contractor to install a roof on a building’s property. The defendant contractor was hired by the defendant property owner. Prior to the completion of the project, the defendant property owner advised the defendant contractor that he wanted the roof of the porch to be re-shingled. The plaintiff began working on the porch roof. Initially, the plaintiff used a ladder, but he then climbed onto the porch roof to continue re-shingling. The porch roof collapsed, causing the plaintiff to fall twelve feet to the ground. The plaintiff, who was a hemophiliac, required extensive medical treatment. He subsequently filed a negligence lawsuit against the defendant property owner and defendant contractor. The plaintiff ultimately settled with the defendant contractor.

Allegedly, it was undisputed that the porch roof was not a safe work surface. The plaintiff argued that the defendant property owner should be held liable for his injuries regardless, due to the fact that the roof had hidden defects. Following a trial, the jury found the defendant property owner negligent but found the plaintiff’s negligence exceeded the negligence of the property owner and therefore, awarded the plaintiff no damages. The plaintiff subsequently appealed.

Liability for Hidden Defects in Massachusetts

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in refusing to provide the jury with a hidden defect instruction. Specifically, the plaintiff requested that the trial court instruct the jury that the owner of a property has a duty to a contractor working on the property to disclose hidden defects the owner is aware of or reasonably should be aware of. The appellate court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the trial court’s refusal to submit the requested instruction to the jury was erroneous, noting that the trial court gave the jury an instruction that set forth a property owner’s duties, including the duty to warn of hidden defects.

Additionally, the appellate court held that the trial court properly instructed the jury that evidence that the property owner’s construction of the roof could not be grounds for negligence due to the statute of repose. The appellate court noted that the statute of repose for contraction defects is six years, and therefore, no liability could be imposed for negligent construction of the roof in the 1970s. Rather, the evidence that the property owner constructed the roof could only be considered in determining whether he had knowledge of a hidden defect.

Speak with a Trusted Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney About Your Case

If you were injured by a hidden defect on a property you should speak with a trusted Massachusetts personal injury attorney about your right to seek damages.  At Karsner & Meehan our personal injury attorneys will aggressively pursue the full extent of compensation you may be owed. We can be contacted at 508-822-6600 or via our online form to set up a confidential and free conference to discuss your case.