Each year, winter dumps feet of snow on New York City’s crowded sidewalks. When the snow starts to melt and then partially refreezes, it creates dangerous sheets of slick, sometimes obscured or invisible ice, which presents a major hazard for even the most cautious of pedestrians. When someone is seriously injured by a slip and fall accident in NYC, he or she may be able to recover compensation by filing a claim or lawsuit – but against whom? Who is responsible for slip and fall accidents that occur on sidewalks in New York City? And are there any limits on liability for injuries?
Understanding Premises Liability: Proving Fault
“Premises liability” is a legal term which means that property (premises) owners are, under certain circumstances, responsible (liable) for compensating accidents and injuries which occur on or inside of their buildings and lands. While premises liability can arise out of many scenarios, a huge number of premises liability claims and lawsuits specifically involve slip and fall accidents, which occur with even greater frequency during the winter months due to ice, snow, slush, and poor visibility. This is especially true of older sidewalks, which can be particularly hazardous due to defects like chips, holes, uneven surfaces, and/or crumbling materials.
A person who is injured in a slip and fall accident is called the plaintiff (or, if they are filing a claim, the claimant), while the party who is responsible for the accident is called the defendant. The plaintiff carries the burden of proof, which means that he or she must be able to prove the existence of certain facts in order to be awarded compensation by a jury. These facts are that:
- The defendant had a “duty of care” toward the plaintiff (e.g. a store owner’s duty of care to his or her patrons).
- The defendant failed to take the normal and necessary precautions against foreseeable risk factors for personal injury or wrongful death. This is called “breach of duty.”
- The defendant’s actions, or failures to act, caused the accident. This is called “causation.”
- The plaintiff was harmed as a result of the accident. This is called “damages.”
Who Is Responsible for a Sidewalk Slip and Fall in NYC?
New York City Administrative Code § 7-210, which deals with liability for property owners who fail to maintain safe sidewalk conditions, provides the following:
“It shall be the duty of the owner of real property abutting any sidewalk, including, but not limited to, the intersection quadrant for corner property, to maintain such sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition.”
The next section of the statute adds the following (italics our emphasis):
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the owner of real property abutting any sidewalk, including… the intersection quadrant for corner property, shall be liable for any injury to property or personal injury, including death, proximately caused by the failure of such owner to maintain such sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition.”
“Proximate cause” is half of “causation,” one of the key facts the plaintiff must demonstrate. Unlike “actual cause” or “cause in fact,” the other element of causation, which refers to the direct cause of an accident – for instance, failure to put salt down on an icy sidewalk – “proximate cause” refers to an accident’s indirect or underlying cause, like negligence of a property owner.
Critically, the statute explicitly cites “negligent failure to remove snow, ice, dirt or other material from the sidewalk” as a specific example of maintenance failures, which means you may have grounds for a lawsuit (called a “cause of action”) if you fell and hurt yourself on an unshoveled walkway.
However, there is also a very important exception. The statute provides that, in most scenarios, “[New York C]ity shall not be liable for any injury to property or personal injury, including death, proximately caused by the failure to maintain sidewalks… in a reasonably safe condition” (with exceptions for “sidewalks abutting one-, two- or three-family residential real propert[ies]” which are either owner-occupied or used purely for residential purposes).
New York Personal Injury Lawyers Offering Free Consultations
Lawsuits against government entities are difficult, but not impossible, to win. Due to the great complexity of these cases, and the extremely short and strict time limits which are involved, it is absolutely critical to make sure you are being represented by a knowledgeable and highly experienced personal injury lawyer, such as those of Sullivan & Galleshaw.
If you or one of your loved ones suffered a slip and fall injury in Queens or other boroughs, call our Manhattan slip and fall attorneys at (718) 843-0300 for a free and completely confidential legal consultation. Our skilled legal team has more than 30 years of experience representing injury victims throughout the New York metropolitan area.