City-Imposed Deadline For Earthquake Retrofit Does Not Insulate Property Owner From Negligence Claims Arising Before Deadline
Government mandates for building upgrades do not protect building owners from liability for injuries occurring prior to the upgrade deadline. The facts giving rise to the Court of Appeal’s decision in Myrick v. Mastigni began with the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. After that earthquake, the City of Paso Robles conducted a survey of unreinforced masonry buildings in the City and then enacted an ordinance requiring owners of those buildings to retrofit their buildings by a certain date. Before the deadline, the 2003 Paso Robles earthquake occurred. Two women were killed when a building that had not yet been retrofit collapsed. The women’s heirs sued the building owners, alleging that the owners’ failure to retrofit the building constituted negligence rendering the owners liable for the women’s deaths.
The Myrick court rejected the building owners’ argument that they had no duty to retrofit their building before the deadline imposed by the City. The court noted that every owner of property owes a duty to manage the property to exercise reasonable care to prevent injury to others.
The court explained that compliance with the City ordinance was the minimum required of the building owners. While compliance is certainly a relevant consideration, it does not provide a complete defense. Since nothing in the City ordinance discouraged early compliance, then a jury could reasonably conclude that the owners’ failure to earlier retrofit the building rendered the owners liable for failure to retrofit the building.