Accidents/Injuries Occurring on Property
When there is an accident that occurs on or inside premises or property owned or leased by another, as a result of unsafe or dangerous conditions which give rise to injuries, this type of accident is known as “premises liability” under the law. In other words, premises liability law holds the person or entity in possession of property such as a landlord or owner liable for injuries sustained by others on the property due to unsafe or dangerous conditions. There is a seemingly endless list of the types of cases which fall under premises liability. They include, but are not limited to the following:
- Slips and falls
- Trips and falls
- Wet floors, lobbies or vestibules
- Icy walkways, paths or steps
- Snow and ice in parking lots
- Parking lot holes, cracks and defects
- Mats and rugs that are buckled, frayed, worn, torn, raised or defective creating danger
- Missing floor mats or rugs inside entryways to residential or commercial properties;
- Broken, cracked or chipped steps
- Broken, cracked or chipped floors
- Uneven floors or steps
- Missing or broken banisters or handrails
- Ripped, torn, worn or defective carpeting
- Uneven floors
- Slippery floors caused by a failure to properly clean, inspect and maintain
- Overly waxed floors, steps and other surfaces
- Failure to post warning signs during cleaning or mopping of floors and stairs
- Malfunctioning elevators and escalators which fall, drop or mislevel
- Open elevator shafts or other dangerous areas
- Failure to properly light and illuminate stairs, hallways, entrances and exits;
- Fires and explosions;
- Dangerous and faulty wiring and electric
- Inadequate or lack of security
- Broken door locks permitting unwanted persons in building
- Ceilings that collapse
- Broken and malfunctioning windows causing injury
- Broken and defective doors, gates, fences and automatic garages
- Broken glass
- Faulty compactor equipment or garbage chutes
Dangerous, unsafe and defective conditions can exist in just about every residential or commercial setting, whether inside a building, outside a building in the open lot or space, private homes, residential apartment complexes, stores, theaters, malls, office buildings, government buildings, hospitals, clinics, amusement parks, pools, sidewalks, walkways and open spaces even including undeveloped land.
The Law Offices of Ira M. Perlman, P.C. & Robert D. Rosen, P.C. have been prosecuting property and premises accident, injury and death cases for over 33 years on behalf of their deserving clients and their loved ones in order to ensure that those responsible for failing to take all necessary reasonable care of their premises are held accountable and pay for all harms and losses due to their negligence and wrongdoing.
Liability of Owners and Others
In New York, the owner, landlord, managing agent, tenant or possessor of property and/or a building has a duty to use reasonable care to keep the property or premises in a reasonably safe condition. Liability for a dangerous condition on property is generally predicated upon ownership, occupancy, control or a special use of the property. In fact, the lessee of an entire building stands in the same position as an owner who owns the building. A lessee of less than the entire building is liable for conditions which exist within the portion of the building that is leased by the lessee.
In order to establish a case against an owner, landlord, lessee or possessor of a building or the premises in question, the injured party or victim must prove the following:
- That the property was not in a reasonably safe condition;
- That the owner, landlord. managing agent, tenant or possessor was negligent in not keeping the property in a reasonably safe condition; and,
- That the negligence in allowing the unsafe condition to exist was a substantial factor in causing a person’s injuries.
Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care. Reasonable care means that degree of care that a reasonably prudent owner, managing agent, tenant or possessor would use under the same circumstances taking into account the foreseeable risk of injury to somebody. When deciding whether someone was negligent, it is important to determine whether the owner, landlord, managing agent, tenant or possessor of the premises or property created the claimed dangerous condition or either knew or, in the use of reasonable care, should have known that the claimed dangerous condition existed. Therefore, if the potential defendant in a premises liability case did not create the claimed dangerous condition but knew or should have known about that condition, there must be proof as to whether or not the potential defendant had sufficient time before an accident to correct the claimed dangerous condition or provide reasonable safeguards or provide reasonable warning to avoid the happening of an accident.
There may be situations where multiple parties such as a managing agent, owner, landlord and even a tenant may share responsibility for an accident. In fact, there are circumstances where you could have a private contractor that has an exclusive contract to provide work, labor and services on certain property or premises which may result in that person or entity being responsible as well. Therefore, simply identifying all of the proper defendants in terms of shared responsibility can be a complex task requiring proper legal advice.
Liability may also arise as a result of the failure to properly maintain the premises or property in question. In New York there are statutes which impose a non-delegable statutory duty on owners, landlords, managing agents and/or possessors of property to comply with obligations that are imposed under the law. If a defendant is found to have violated a statute and the violation of that statute was a substantial factor in causing injuries, then the defendant will be found liable. As an example, there are statutes requiring stairways to be properly lit, doors to be properly locked and a host of other laws which breach of same will give rise to liability.
Additionally, an owner or possessor of a building which is open to the public, such as a store, office building or other place of public assembly, is required to provide a safe means of ingress and egress. Certain circumstances may give rise to an inference of negligence when there has been placement of a loose mat or runner on top of a waxed floor or there has been negligent application of wax on a floor making it slippery. Likewise, grease, rubbish and dirt on a stairway which has not been cleaned can also give rise to liability.
In terms of ice and snow, there is a general duty to use reasonable care to maintain premises and property in a reasonably safe condition. If the dangerous condition was the result of snowstorm, the party in control of the premises must be given a reasonable amount of time to remedy the dangerous condition. The reasonable time to correct the condition is measured from the end of the storm and liability generally may not be imposed for an accident which occurred while the storm was still in progress. However, if the possessor of property gratuitously clears snow and ice while a storm is in progress, that possessor or owner can be held liable for creating or exacerbating a dangerous condition. Obviously, snow and ice cases become fact specific and it will usually be up to a jury to determine whether or not a landowner or a possessor had enough time to take action to remove any unsafe and dangerous conditions on the property.
Duty to Inspect
The owner or occupier of property must use reasonable care to inspect the property and discover any dangerous and unsafe conditions. There is a further duty to correct, repair, replace or give adequate warning of a dangerous or unsafe condition which could be reasonably expected to harm others. For example, if there is an owner of a store who knows or should have known that a display in the store is defective or unsafe, there is the responsibility to fix the display because of the danger of collapse or merchandise falling and causing injury to a patron. Likewise, the owner or managing agent of a residential apartment building has the duty and responsibility to inspect the common areas and if an inspection reveals a dangerous crack on a tread located on the stairwell, there is the obligation to repair, correct or replace the tread or, in the alternative, give adequate warning of that condition before somebody falls and gets hurt. Therefore, a failure to make reasonable inspections of property or a building may subject the owner or possessor to liability for injuries which are caused as a result of the failure to inspect the premises.
It is important to realize that even when liability has been proven against the owner or possessor of a building or property, the inquiry does not end there under the law in court. The reason for this is that in the State of New York, people who have been the victim of accidents on someone else’s property also have the duty act reasonably as well. Therefore, even if a jury has made a determination that a defendant property owner or possessor was negligent and responsible for causing an accident, that same jury will have the responsibility to determine whether or not the accident victim himself or herself bears a percentage of liability or responsibility for contributing to the happening of the accident.
In plain English, this means that a jury has the capability of finding a defendant only partially responsible for an accident whereby the accident victim bears the remaining responsibility for the accident. For example, if a jury finds that the defendant and the plaintiff were equally at fault then they would report back that each party was fifty (50%) percent responsible. However, if a jury found that one party was more at fault, the jury would assign a higher percentage to that party and a lower percentage to the other party, with the total of the percentages equaling one hundred (100%) percent.
Therefore, any combination of percentages between the parties is possible as long as the total of one hundred (100%) percent is reached. Very importantly, if the accident victim is found to be partially at fault for causing the accident, then whatever amount of money is awarded to the accident victim for his or her injuries, harms and losses will also be reduced in proportion to the percentage of liability found against the accident victim. Therefore, if a jury awarded an accident victim $100,000.00 for his or her injuries, that award would have to be reduced to $50,000.00 if the same jury found that the accident victim was fifty (50%) percent responsible for the happening of the accident.
Methods of Proof
Inasmuch as there are so many different types of premises liability cases, the method of proving all the necessary elements required in order to prevail can also widely vary from case to case. Certainly, photographs of the location, if taken reasonably close to the time of the occurrence when the dangerous conditions are substantially the same, are extremely helpful. Additionally, statements and eventual testimony from other persons at the premises who were aware of dangerous and unsafe conditions prior to the accident in question may be extremely relevant and helpful in proving that the owner, managing agent or possessor of the property knew or should have known about the same dangerous and unsafe conditions.
Depending upon the situation, there may have been prior complaints, whether made in writing or verbally, to the owner or possessor of the premises which would prove that there was actual notice of the dangerous and unsafe conditions well before an accident. Likewise, the courts have held that when an owner or possessor of property has actual knowledge of a dangerous or unsafe condition that continues to reoccur, this evidence may be sufficient to prove that the defendant should have known about the unsafe or dangerous condition which caused an accident even though the defendant did not have actual notice of the specific condition prior to the happening of an accident. An example might be where an accident victim gives testimony that he observed a general wet condition on an interior stair in a subway station on many prior occasions due to a leaky pipe even though the precise wet condition he fell on the same steps was new. It could be inferred that the defendant responsible for the subway station did have sufficient notice concerning the condition which caused the accident as a result of being able to prove that said defendant had actual knowledge of all of the recurrent dangerous wet conditions previously existing on the floor due to the same leaky pipe.
Records, logs and bookkeeping maintained by owners and possessors and their various employees with respect to their job responsibilities and the work, labor and services performed are also extremely important sources of evidence in order to prove premises liability cases because they may very well show a failure or breach by a potential defendant with respect to taking care of the property or building in question. For instance, one may be able to show that there was a failure to inspect or maintain an area of a building because there were no entries in a log book for a period of time. Further, not maintaining log books, records or other logs relating to maintenance or inspection may also prove a defendant did not take any proper steps in order to regularly maintain and inspect certain premises or property.
Once again, every case is different. There may be witnesses or police who have responded and these persons may have relevant information or testimony to offer. Emergency medical personnel who have responded to the scene in addition to other medical providers who took a history from the accident victim may also be very helpful in proving the manner in which an accident occurred on property or premises when questions arise regarding causation. Prior incidents or accidents at the same location may also be very relevant to the issue of notice to the owner or possessor of the property, as well as to the dangerousness of the condition.
Only by carefully analyzing each particular case can an attorney determine the methodology needed to prove all of the necessary elements required to prevail in the case for the purpose of ensuring that the injured party obtains full and fair compensation for his or her harms and losses.