patent defect

Primary tabs

A flaw, dangerous condition, or other deficiency which is reasonably apparent to the ordinarily prudent person. (Contrast with a latent defect). The California Code of Civil Procedure, § 337.1(e) defines patent defect as “a deficiency which is apparent by reasonable inspection.” In the context of negligence, patent defects may exonerate a party from liability. That is, if the injured party seeking damages because of a defect on a premise suffered their injury as a result of a patent defect, then the potentially liable party may not be liable. To illustrate, the California Code of Civil Procedure, § 337.1(a)(3) states that, “no action shall be brought to recover damages from any person. . . for. . . [i]njury to the person or for wrongful death arising out of any such patent deficiency.”

In further analyzing whether a defect is patent, courts may consider whether an objective person would discover the defect. For example, in Delon Hampton & Associates, Chartered, v. Superior Court, a California court described the California test for whether construction defects are patent as “whether the average consumer, during the course of a reasonable inspection, would discover the defect. There, the court found that a stairwell that was too narrow with a bannister which was too low was a patent defect. California case law has also included the following examples as patent defects: the absence of a fence around a swimming pool (Mattingly v. Anthony Industries, Inc.); raised paving stones on a patio (Tomko Woll Group Architects Inc. v. Superior Court); and defective construction of a landing that allows water to pool on the landing and to drain into an office (Sanchez v. Swinerton & Walberg Co.). By contrast, California case law found that the follow defects were not patent, and therefore latent: an improperly designed heating and air conditioning system, that causes uncontrollable temperature fluctuations (Baker v. Walker & Walker Inc.); and the absence of a vapor barrier, which caused the siding on a building to buckle (Mills v. Forestex Co.).

[Last updated in November of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]