Is a realtor legally liable for a potential buyer’s injuries?

It’s every real estate agent’s nightmare scenario: while showing a house and hoping for that big commission check, a client slips, falls, injures themselves and files a lawsuit.

Recently an Iowa court held that the realtor in such a case was not at fault.

Summary of the case

During the winter of 2018, a prospective buyer entered the property of a house after getting the keys from their realtor. During the visit, the client slipped on the ice and sustained an injury.

The trial court’s initial ruling

The first court accepted the injured party’s claims, arguing that the realtor should have reasonably known about the hazard, amounts to a possessor of the property and therefore has a duty to ensure that the walkways and driveways are safe for visitors.

The appeals court’s new ruling

In the case of DeSousa v Iowa Realty Company,  the appeals court rejected the previous conclusion. The second court found that the homeowners were more at fault in this case, even though the home was vacant. According to the National Association of Realtors, “merely scheduling a showing with a potential buyer” did not transfer the property’s control to the realtor, nor the duty to keep it safe.

The court argued that there was no fundamental difference between the realtor in this case and a neighbor who holds the keys while adjacent homeowners are on vacation. If the neighbors would not be at fault while the rightful homeowners are away, neither should the realtor be held accountable for injuries caused in their absence.