Can the previous seller be liabke for structural defects?

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Can the previous seller be liabke for structural defects?

We bought a house 30 days ago. Today,
as my wife was walking off the porch to
the driveway, the stairs broke away
from the porch, and she was thrown into
the yard. There were only three nails
connecting a 5-stair stairway, which
seems like a code violation. She may
have broken her hand in the fall. Do we
have any recourse?

Asked on May 29, 2016 under Real Estate Law, North Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

A previous seller would only be liable if--
1) The condition was unreasonably dangerous (which is not the same as a code violation; not all code violations are unreasonably dangernous, and conversly, some things which are unreasonably dangerous are not code violations); 
2) They knew, or reasonably *must* have known (i.e. under the circumstances, any seller in their position would known) of the defect; 
3) Knowing of the violation, they lied about it (which can include a lie by omission--i.e. not disclosing it); and also
4) The defect was not fairly readily visible to you and/or your inspector (since if it was visible and you bought the house anyway, you would be considered to have waived, or given up, the right to sue over it).
As you can imagine, it can be difficult to prove all these elements (and if you sue--whcih is the only way to have recourse--it would be your burden to prove them); and since you can only recover your out-of-pocket (not paid by insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid) medical costs, lost  wages (if any) and, for injuries causing long term impairment, some amount for "pain and suffering," it may not be worth taking legal action.


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