Law Review: Man falls to death from roof after drinking, parents sue

Jim Porter
Jim Porter

How would you feel if you owned a five-story apartment complex (like that’s gonna happen) and one of your tenants gets drunk, eats brownies laced with marijuana, goes up on the roof unbeknownst to you, slips and falls to his death … then sues you for maintaining a steep and slippery roof? As a property owner you would not feel so good. Nor did the YMCA of Glendale, California, owner of the apartment complex. 


Abel Montes, a 23-year-old resident of the YMCA’s apartment building in Glendale, attended a birthday party where he was drinking. He was driven home where he announced to the apartment desk clerk that he had eaten a brownie and was “high.” Later he was acting erratic in the lobby. He told the desk clerk he was going back to his room. 

Instead, Montes went to the top floor, then climbed a ladder onto the roof which was steep and covered with broken and slippery Spanish tiles. The parties agreed there was no need for Montes to be on the roof. Sadly, Montes slipped and fell to his death. His parents sued the Young Men’s Christian Association of Glendale. The trial court ruled for the YMCA. Montes’ parents appealed.


A landlord like the YMCA arguably may be found liable if it maintains a dangerous condition that caused Montes’ injury. In this case a steep roof with broken and slippery Spanish tiles. However, that liability is absent when a dangerous condition is “open and obvious.” The fact that Montes was seriously intoxicated does not help the family’s claim he was unaware of the obvious risk of slipping from the steep roof.


The Second Appellate District Court of Appeal concluded it was not necessary for Montes to be on the roof “As a matter of law, it was not foreseeable that [Montes] would knowingly embrace an entirely obvious risk by voluntarily encountering the danger.

…[the YMCA] owed no duty to do anything to protect Montes from his voluntary, unnecessary, and uninvited risk taking …. there is a limit to how far society should go by way of direct governmental regulations of commercial and private activity, or indirect regulation thereof through the tort system [i.e., suing], in order to protect individuals from their own stupidity, carelessness, daring or self-destructive impulses.” 

The danger was obvious. Judgment for the YMCA. 

I agree with this decision.      

Jim Porter is a recently retired attorney of the Porter Simon law firm, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno. These are Jim’s personal opinions. Jim’s practice areas included:  real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at or

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