Slip and fall accidents account for over 8 million emergency room visits every year, according to the National Floor Safety Institute. Many of these injuries occur right here, in Brooklyn, where walking hazards are numerous. Thankfully, New York is also home to strong legal protections, which may allow some injury victims to pursue compensation after suffering injury in a fall. By filing a personal injury lawsuit, slip and fall victims can pursue valuable financial reimbursement, money to cover unexpected medical expenses, lost wages and their own pain and suffering.
Premises Liability Laws In Brooklyn
As an area of civil law, slip and fall accidents come under a legal theory known as “premises liability.” The doctrine of premises liability, which lies at the foundation of many personal injury lawsuits, recognizes a simple ethical fact: property owners owe their guests a duty of care. In short, anyone who owns property, whether commercial or residential, has a duty to ensure that legal guests are protected from harm. Likewise, every guest has a right to step onto a premises that is free from unreasonably dangerous hazards, at least when it is legal for them to come on the property in the first place.
Every responsibility comes with a flip-side: liability. When a property owner endangers the safety of guests, by creating or failing to repair hazards, injured victims are allowed to hold the responsible party accountable in court. Most people associate premises liability lawsuits with falls and other accidents that take place in snowy parking lots, cluttered department stores or unclean bodegas. In actuality, the legal theory of premises liability extends to encompass nearly anything that can be owned, including household pets.
As you might expect, the doctrine of premises liability becomes important in numerous accident cases. While detailing every type of premises liability case is impossible, here are a few examples:
- Slip, trip and fall
- Injuries caused by defective elevators or escalators
- Dog bites
- Property fires
- Medical conditions caused by lead paint or exposure to toxic chemicals
- Crimes that occur due to inadequate security
Keep in mind that some injuries, even ones that involve another person’s property, will not make for a suitable personal injury lawsuit. The vast majority of premises liability lawsuits require a demonstration of negligence, a key legal concept that we’ll explain at length in a moment.
Holding Property Owners Liable
When property owners fail to enact the minimal safety measures required by law, other individuals can suffer severe personal injuries. If the injured party is able to demonstrate a set of core facts about the incident, they may become eligible to recover significant compensation.
At its center, nearly every premises liability lawsuit revolves around the theory of negligence, under which the injured victim must show that the property owner used inadequate care in owning the property. Proving that a dangerous condition on someone else’s property caused your injuries isn’t enough. To win a lawsuit, you’ll have to go further, demonstrating that the property owner created the dangerous condition, or allowed the dangerous condition to persist, despite being aware of the hazard.
Courts in New York recognize that certain hazards cannot be remedied immediately. Established New York State law holds that property owners must be given a reasonable of time to correct a dangerous condition, before they become liable for injuries caused by that condition. Take snow storms as one example. Surprisingly, falls sustained in improperly-plowed parking lots are probably the leading cause of personal injury litigation in New York. Parking lot owners don’t become liable for these injuries in all cases, however. In the context of a snow storm, property owners don’t become responsible for the conditions of a premises until a reasonable time after the storm has ended.
Actual & Constructive Notice
In some cases, a property owner will proactively create dangerous conditions – coating a store’s floor with polish but failing to warn customers – and plaintiffs won’t have to demonstrate that the property owner acted negligently. This sort of accident is comparatively rare. More often than not, premises liability lawsuits hinge, not on a property owner’s active creation of hazards, but on the owner’s failure to deal adequately with existing dangers. In brief, property owners can’t be held liable for problems they don’t know about.
To demonstrate negligence in this context, plaintiffs will have to prove that the property owner had actual or constructive notice of the hazard:
- actual notice – the property owner actually knew about the hazard
- constructive notice – the property owner should have known about the hazard, as a reasonable person would have, even though they did not receive actual notice
In some cases, a history of similar accidents on the same premises can be evidence that a property owner had actual notice of a hazard. A long list of complaints from previous guests may also do the trick. Defendants, however, can use this logic to their advantage as well. Just as a history of accidents can demonstrate actual notice, evidence of no similar accidents in the past can be used to show that no hazard existed.
What Is “Reasonable”?
Since every property is different, the court determines what would be considered reasonable care for the property in question. In order to reach a conclusion as to what this care for a property may be, officials will carefully consider the answers to a set of questions. Common questions asked may include:
- If the trip was caused by a defect in flooring, such as torn carpet, a loose floorboard, or a wet area, was the hazard there long enough for the property owner to know about it?
- Could a barrier or warning sign have been erected to notify visitors of the hazard?
- If an object caused the fall, was there a legitimate reason for the presence of that object?
- How often does the property owner check the property for potential hazards, and what proof do they have of this regular maintenance?
- Did poor or broken lighting make the situation even more dangerous and contribute to the accident?
It should be obvious by now that premises liability lawsuits can become very complicated – very quickly.
Trespassing Or Invited?
In the past, nearly every state made a distinction between people who were invited onto a property, like store customers, and people who were trespassing. In breaking the law, trespassers normally forfeited their rights to compensation in the event of a personal injury. Today, the majority of states have moved away from these harsh definitions, granting even trespassers certain rights in the event of an accident. New York is no different.
People who trespass on someone else’s property in Brooklyn and suffer injuries may still have a viable case under New York’s premises liability laws.
Comparative Fault In New York
When you step onto someone else’s property, you are also bound by certain duties. Property owners have a responsibility to use reasonable care in maintaining the property, but guests have their own responsibility to avoid obvious or apparent dangers. Understandably, many defendants argue that the victim was partially responsible for their own injuries.
Even if that’s true, New York’s courts use a system of “comparative fault” to split the difference. In many cases, contributing to your own injuries won’t be a deal-breaker. Instead, the Court will attempt to determine how much fault should be attributed to each party, a determination normally represented by a percentage. Compensation can then be awarded based on this attribution. If the Court finds that a plaintiff is 35% responsible for the accident, the damages awarded will be reduced by 35%.
Damages In A Premises Liability Lawsuit
There are several forms of compensation that can be sought in a lawsuit. If the plaintiff’s attorney wins the case, the court awards the plaintiff “damages”. These damages are monetary compensation for their losses. The different forms of damages are:
Special Compensatory Damages
These damages reimburse the victim for losses like lost wages, medical expenses (both past and future), household expenses, and the cost of canceling or re-booking a trip.
General Compensatory Damages
General damages give the plaintiff compensation for losses that are considered non-monetary. This can include mental anguish, pain and suffering, and loss of companionship.
Wrongful Death Damages
In a wrongful death case, the negligence of the defendant directly resulted in the death of the victim. The loved ones of the victim have the right to pursue legal action against the defendant and may receive compensation for funeral and burial expenses, the pre-death medical expenses, loss of financial contribution, loss of consortium, and emotional trauma.
When making a decision regarding what type of compensation the victim and their loved ones might recover, the cause of the accident as well as the injuries sustained are closely examined.
What Is The Statute Of Limitations?
Like every other state, New York has instituted a strict time limit, constraining the amount of time injured victims have to file premises liability lawsuits. This law, known as the “statute of limitations,” provides only 3 years for plaintiffs to file suit, according to the New York City Bar Association. The time limit begins on the date of the accident that caused the plaintiff’s injuries.