Broker agent found not liable in slip-and-fall case
Real estate agents and brokerages have been closely watching a slip-and-fall case in Iowa. The suit is a reminder to homeowners that they need to manage hazards prior to real estate showings at their property.
A prospective homebuyer slipped on a patch of ice when visiting a property. The buyer suffered injuries and sued both the homeowners and the listing brokerage, claiming they failed to provide adequate warning of a dangerous condition and failed to remediate a hazard.
The prospective buyer had scheduled a tour through her own buyer’s agent, and they were granted access through use of a lockbox. The listing agent was not present at the time of the showing. Meanwhile, the homeowners no longer occupied the property, having already moved to their new residence.
The brokerage firm filed for dismissal, but a district court initially ruled that a listing agent could have a legal duty to ensure safe access, even if they’re not present. The brokerage firm appealed, and the case moved to the Iowa Supreme Court.
That court concluded that helping sell the property did not constitute immediate authority and control, even though the property was vacant.
In its opinion, the court compared a listing broker’s control over a home to that of a neighbor who is left keys by a vacationing homeowner.
If the absent broker agent was held liable, then a homeowner’s neighbors or relatives could also be sued if they allowed someone to have access to the property and an accident occurred, according to the opinion.
The court did, however, distinguish this situation from other cases when a real estate agent was present during the showing and was found to owe a duty of care. A dissenting justice argued that some broker-owner relationships could create situations in which the broker was expected to exercise control over certain hazards.
Takeaways for home sellers
Be aware that you have a duty of care to mitigate known hazards before a property showing.
If a storm has occurred recently, you may want to delay any in-person showings until you, or a caretaker, has had time to address ice, downed tree limbs, or other potential hazards.
Finally, ensure you maintain liability insurance on your property even if you are no longer in residence.