General Disclaimer – The materials posted on this website are for general information, and cannot be taken as legal advice. (See Full Disclaimer).
We use the term "Premises" for any case in which someone is injured because the place where the accident happened was in an unsafe condition. Many injuries can occur as a result of unsafe premises. Although many will be "slip and fall" or "trip and fall" accidents, there are other types as well.
General Responsibility of a Property Owner - The owner of any private property, (or sometimes the person in possession), is responsible for an injury that occurs on the property if i) the premises were not reasonably safe; ii) the defendant was negligent in not keeping the premises reasonably safe; and iii) that the unsafe condition caused the accident. To decide whether the owner was "negligent", the jury must weigh the likelihood and seriousness of the risk of injury against the burdens involved in maintaining the premises. Therefore, the landlord's failure to make a very simple, inexpensive repair may be found negligent while a failure to take very expensive, complicated steps to prevent an unlikely accident might not be negligent. Although these decisions might be decided by a judge in some cases, they are usually left up to the jury.
Notice - In almost all premises cases, we, as your attorneys, have to prove that the defendant knew about the dangerous condition which caused the accident, and that defendant knew about it for a period of time which was long enough to have done something about it. How long this is changes according to the facts and circumstances of each case. An example of this is a customer knocking a bottle of olive oil off the shelf in the supermarket, breaking it on the floor. If someone slips on it 30 seconds later, the store might not be held responsible, because they did not have enough of an opportunity to find out about the olive oil and clean it up. On the other hand, testimony that there were footprints of olive oil tracked up and down several aisles is very good evidence that the employees had enough time that they should have noticed it and cleaned it up.
Defendant Caused or Created the Condition - It is not necessary to prove that the defendant had notice of the condition where the defendant caused or created the condition. In the previous example, if the olive oil bottle was dropped by a store employee who was stocking the shelves, someone who slips in it and falls 30 seconds later wins against the supermarket, because a store employee caused and created the condition.
Recurring Condition - It is also not necessary to prove notice where there is a "recurring condition". An example of this is water accumulating on an interior stairway in a subway station, where the plaintiff testified that he observed the same conditions on prior occasions, and that the water came from a leaky pipe. In this example, even if the water began dripping 30 seconds before the accident, there is no need to prove notice.
Assumption of Risk - This comes up frequently in sports injury cases. Where a baseball player is aware that the field is in poor condition and plays anyway, his case will be difficult one if he twists an ankle while running the bases due to a hole in the field. An umpire at a professional tennis match who had a heart attack and died when he was hit by a tennis ball was also held to have assumed the risk, and could not recover. The assumption of risk depends on the level of experience of the participant, and changes drastically between a professional athlete and a child. In all cases, the owner or supervisor of the activity has to use reasonable care to protect the players from concealed or unreasonably increased risks.
Comparative Negligence - In almost all premises accidents, the defense argues that the accident occurred either completely or partially as a result of the plaintiff's own negligence. This is an issue that must be dealt with in every case on a case by case basis, and it is not possible to give any general rules on this without knowing all the facts of the situation. Suffice to say, though, that no statements should be given to any insurance adjusters before getting an attorney because the adjusters will put words in the plaintiff's mouth which could make the comparative negligence problem large enough to seriously damage the case.
Public Sidewalks - The City of New York is no longer responsible for most accidents which occur on public sidewalks. In 2003, § 7-210(b) of the New York City Administrative Code was enacted, which took this responsibility away from the City, and gave it to the private owner of the property which borders on the sidewalk. This means that the private owner is generally responsible for any injuries which are caused by failure to maintain the sidewalk, which covers everything from cracks in the concrete, as well as failure to remove snow, ice, or dirt. This rule does not apply to one, two or three family homes, as long as (i) one of the owners lives there, and as long as (ii) it is not being used for any business purpose. In those cases, the City is still responsible, and there are some special conditions which must be met to successfully sue the City in a sidewalk case which do not apply as against private owners. If the lot which borders on the sidewalk is City property, such as a public park, the sidewalk is still the responsibility of the City.
The Very First Thing You Should Do is Take Pictures of Whatever Caused the Accident. Use a cell phone or disposable camera if that is all that is available. We can take better pictures as soon as we become aware of your case. but if you wait to take pictures and the landlord makes repairs, the case becomes difficult. It is much better to go ahead with poor quality photographs than no photographs at all, and jurors can be very understanding of this. Remember, however, that liability is not automatic because the accident happened on someone's premises - Liability comes from some "condition" which caused the accident to happen, and this still has to be proven to win. As far reporting the accident to the defendant or landlord, this gives the defendant too much control over what the report says, or allows distortion of what you said. While every case is different, as a general rule, we do not recommend that you report any accident; it is better to let us do it.