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Rowland v. Christian

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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Rowland v. Christian
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    Brief Fact Summary. Rowland (Plaintiff) asked to use the bathroom and was injured when a cracked handle of the cold-water faucet on the basin broke and severed tendons and nerves on his right hand. Nancy Christian (Defendant) had known for two weeks that the handle was cracked and had complained to the manager. However, she did not warn Plaintiff of the condition.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Ordinary principles of negligence may be used to determine the liability of a landowner to a person coming onto the property.

    Facts. Plaintiff was a social guest in Defendant’s apartment. Plaintiff asked to use the bathroom and was injured when a cracked handle of the cold-water faucet on the basin broke and severed tendons and nerves on his right hand. Defendant had known for two weeks that the handle was cracked, and had complained to the manager. However, she did not warn Plaintiff. A summary judgment was given to Defendant. Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. May ordinary principles of negligence be used to determine the liability of a landowner to a person coming onto the property?

    Held. Yes. Judgment reversed.
    * Defendant was aware that the faucet handle was defective and dangerous, that the defect was not obvious, and that Plaintiff was about to come into contact with the defective condition. Defendant did not warn Plaintiff of the dangerous condition. From these facts the trier of fact can reasonably conclude that a failure to warn or to repair the condition constitutes negligence.
    * It is apparent that the classifications of trespasser, licensee, and invitee, the immunities from liability predicated upon those classifications, and the exceptions to those immunities, often do not reflect the major factors, which should determine whether immunity should be conferred upon the possessor of land.
    * Although in general, there may be a relationship between the remaining factors and the classifications of trespasser, licensee, and invitee, there are many cases in which no such relationship may exist. A man’s life or limb does not become less worthy of protection by the law, nor is his loss less worthy of compensation under the law because he has come upon the lawn of another without permission, or with permission but without a business purpose. We decline to follow and perpetuate such rigid classifications.

    Dissent. (Justice Burke) The distinctions between trespassers, licensees, and invitees have been applied for many years. These classifications have a stability and predictability in their outcome. If these issues must be decided on a case-by-case basis under the laws of negligence, they will be bereft of the guiding principles and precedent the law has provided. It is not the proper function of a court to overturn the learning, wisdom, and experience of the past in this field; that is the domain of the Legislature.

    Discussion. This court applies common law negligence on the owners and occupiers of land notwithstanding the traditional distinctions in the law.


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