Fannie Mae Can’t Shake Suit Over Missing Stairs

     (CN) – Fannie Mae lost its bid to dismiss the $1.35 million negligence claim of a man who says he tumbled into a dark basement on the lender’s property because over half the staircase was missing.
     Daniel Moran was interested in buying a home in Norfolk, Va., owned by the Federal National Mortgage Association, also known as Fannie Mae.     
     In its appraisal report, Fannie Mae noted that the property had several “incomplete walls, missing interior doors … and missing floor covering.” It also stated that the property “was in the middle of some sort of renovation and currently in poor condition.”
     The report did not mention that the basement lacked all but the top three stairs.
     In September 2009, Moran and a real estate agent went to view the property. Unaware that the stairs were incomplete and the power was out, Moran used a small flashlight to light his way. When he descended, Moran fell six feet to the basement floor and injured his face, shoulder, wrist and knee.
     He sued Fannie Mae for $1.35 million in damages.
     Fannie Mae asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit on the basis that Moran was “contributorily negligent,” because the dark staircase was an obvious hazard.
     “Leaving aside the duty an owner has to warn an invitee of latent dangers, the facts asserted by the defendants do not demonstrate that Moran showed a total disregard for his own safety,” U.S. District Judge Douglas Miller wrote, allowing Moran’s two negligence claims to proceed.
     “Moran used a small flashlight during his descent of the darkened staircase. For some reason the flashlight was insufficient to prevent his fall, but Moran’s use of a light source is sufficient to support his affirmative claim that he used due care for his own safety.”
     However, Miller said Moran’s third claim, for public nuisance, “rests on conclusory statements” and cannot proceed.
     “[T]he public does not enjoy a right or privilege to access the staircase within defendant’s property,” Miller wrote. “As a business invitee, Moran gained access to the property only upon invitation from defendant. Because the public was not generally invited to defendant’s private property, no public right was implicated. In the absence of a public right, which the staircase allegedly interfered, Moran cannot state a claim of public nuisance.”

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