In reversing summary judgment for defendants, the California Fourth District Court of Appeal recently held that homeowners suing their real estate broker for negligence did not need an expert witness to establish the elements of their causes of action. Ryan v. Real Estate of the Pacific, Inc. (2019) 32 Cal. App. 5th 637. Typically, expert witnesses are required to establish the standard of care in professional negligence cases. But in Ryan, the court of appeal held that the “common knowledge” exception applied despite this general rule, because the conduct required by the particular circumstance of the case was within the common knowledge of a layman. The conduct in question here? The broker’s failure to disclose to his client that the client’s neighbor told him that she planned extensive renovations that would obstruct the client’s property’s ocean views.
Ryan and Patricia Ryan (the Ryans) hired defendant Real Estate of the Pacific, Inc., doing business as Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty (Sotheby’s) and defendant real estate broker to sell their residence in La Jolla, California. During an open house at the residence, a neighbor informed the Ryan’s real estate broker that she planned extensive renovations at her home that would, among other things, permanently obstruct the Ryan’s westerly ocean views and take several years to complete. The real estate broker never informed the Ryans of this, nor the subsequent buyer. The subsequent buyer purchased the property for $3.86 million, and defendants received $96,500 as commission for the sale. The day after escrow closed, the buyers learned of the renovations, and sought to rescind the purchase. Based on advice of defendants, the Ryans refused, and the dispute proceeded to arbitration. The buyer obtained a rescission of the purchase, with the Ryans order to pay damages, interest, and attorneys’ fees and costs in excess of $1 million. The Ryans then sued Sotheby’s and the real estate broker to recover these amounts and damages caused by defendants’ alleged negligence.