While people often chide the United States for our torts system and personal liability laws, occasional stories from other countries remind us of how important liability can be to influence accident avoidance. Sharon Regoli Ciferno, 50, a teacher at Charles A. Huston Middle School in western Pennsylvania, was vacationing in Mexico when she fell off a hotel roof that used a deck ledge as a bench. Ciferno laughed so hard that she lost her balance in throwing her head back and fell off the roof.
She was not drunk. The hotel had simply elected to have a roof deck without a proper barrier. The shocking thing is that this may have been in compliance with local building codes which are notoriously lax in Mexico. However, in the United States, such codes are not necessarily controlling on tort liability. In the case of Kline v. 1500 Massachusetts Avenue. In Kline a landlord was found liable for not taking precautions to protect tenants from crime in an apartment building in Washington. That case involved a tenant who remained on the property during years of decline of the neighborhood in Washington, D.C., but continued as an at-will tenant. She was aware of the crime in the area and the building. However, the court still held that the landlord was liable even though he met housing regulations. He still violated the implied warranty of habitability.
The liability system (like the building codes) are less stringent in Mexico. Such an obvious risk (particularly in an area where people would be partying and drinking) would result in potentially punitive damages for a hotel in the United States — regardless of the local codes.
Ciferno made it to a hospital in San Diego but died of her injuries.
She was with her family on vacation and was married and a mother of two teenagers.