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Personal Injury: Duty to Prevent Injury Foreclosed Home

Finally, a case were the court makes good sense.  In this case the US magistrate Judge lowered the hammer on Wells Fargo Bank who tried to shirk its responsibility to ensure that despite being involved in the commercial business of property ownership, it had an obligation to ensure a safe environment for prospective buyer. Wells Fargo attempted the take "pity on me" defense when it stated that its property inventory was so large that it could not reasonably be expected to visit the property each day. The magistrate judge agreed that Wells Fargo could not view the property daily, which I might take exception to, but did state that the bank was the homeowner and in fact had a duty to guard against injuries. Wells Fargo, the 800 pound gorilla, of property ownership, should be scolded for its deplorable behavior and actually allowing this case to go to court. To believe that they own a property but have no responsibility to ensure visitors to its property are safe, is a disgusting and offensive act. Any reasonable jury should award extremely large punitive damages to the plaintiff in this matter. When big financial institutions take advantage of injured individuals, the message that should be sent loud and clear is "you will be punished for bad behavior".

If you have a legal matter in New Jersey and need the advice of a NJ Personal Injury Lawyer, call today for your free consultation, 800-709-1131

Bank Has Duty to Prevent Injury in Foreclosed Home, Judge Says

, New Jersey Law Journal

Wells Fargo Bank owed a duty of care to a prospective homebuyer who was injured when she tripped on a piece of broken glass while viewing a foreclosed house owned by the bank, a federal judge in Newark has ruled.

Defendant Wells Fargo argued that it had no relationship with the homebuyer, that it had no knowledge of the broken glass that was said to have caused the accident and that requiring owners of foreclosed properties to conduct daily inspections would set a dangerous precedent.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Hammer of the District of New Jersey rejected the bank’s argument, finding it had a duty of care.

Lenders taking possession of a residential property in foreclosure assume the owner’s nondelegable duty to protect business invitees from reasonably foreseeable injuries due to dangerous conditions, Hammer said. The claim that the bank had no relationship to the plaintiffs is unavailing because Wells Fargo derived a benefit from marketing the house for sale and inviting plaintiffs onto the property, the judge said.

Hammer also rejected Wells Fargo’s argument that the broken glass was not a foreseeable condition. According to Hammer, police in South Orange, N.J., reported roughly a month before the accident that a squatter had broken in and was living in the house. Therefore, it was reasonably foreseeable that the vacant property was vulnerable to damage that could harm an invitee, Hammer said.

Hammer also granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on the duty of care owed by maintenance contractor Field Asset Services of Austin; the agency that was showing the house to the plaintiffs at the time of the alleged injury, Century 21 Gemini of Wayne, N.J.; and real estate agent Glenn Miller. Hammer denied motions for summary judgment by Wells Fargo, Field Asset Services, Century 21 Gemini and Miller.

U.S. District Judge Faith Hochberg of the District of New Jersey had referred the motions to Hammer, and his ruling will stand unless a party asks the district judge to review it.

Plaintiff Anna Charlton struck her face and body and suffered serious and permanent injuries in the fall in a second-floor bathroom at the house, according to Hammer’s opinion. The glass apparently came from a broken light fixture, according to court documents. Charlton’s husband, Gary Francione, was also present when the accident took place, in August 2010. Francione is a professor and Charlton an adjunct professor at Rutgers School of Law-Newark.

Wells Fargo claimed the real estate agent’s failure to inspect the property before showing it and failure to correct the alleged hazard constituted a superseding intervening cause of the plaintiff’s injury, which absolved Wells Fargo of any liability.

Hammer recognized that Wells Fargo could not visit all of its foreclosed properties every day, but said that does not provide a bar to an owner’s duty to exercise reasonable care. The bank could have exercised care by hiring a third party to perform regular inspections, Hammer said.

What’s more, public policy concerns support a finding that Wells Fargo owed a duty, Hammer said. While Wells Fargo claimed that a daily inspection requirement would place an unreasonable economic burden on owners of foreclosed properties, New Jersey courts have consistently recognized that homeowners are in the best position to learn of dangerous conditions on their property, Hammer said.

“Certainly, even a vacant owner is in a superior position to ensure the property is adequately maintained than the invitee, who has neither the ability nor the duty to ensure there was no dangerous condition on the property,” Hammer said.

Henry Furst of Furst & Lurie in Montclair, N.J., who represented the plaintiffs, said discovery is complete and the case is ready for trial in light of Hammer’s ruling.

“Large banks that have a lot of properties are trying to avoid their responsibility,” Furst said. “Under New Jersey law, they have a nondelegable duty to prevent injuries on their properties.”


If you have a legal matter such as foreclosures, personal injury in New Jersey and need the advice of a NJ Personal Injury Attorney call today for your free consultation, 800-709-1131