How to Prove a Premises Liability Case In New York

By | April 27, 2017

When someone enters a place of business – a salon, a supermarket, a restaurant – they don’t expect to be leaving on a stretcher. It’s an unspoken agreement between a consumer and a business owner. If it were spoken, it would go something like this: “I will frequent your establishment if you guard my personal safety while I am on your premises.”

It doesn’t sound like too much to expect when one is spending their hard-earned dollars in a place of business. But, things happen. People do get hurt unexpectedly due to the carelessness of others. They slip and fall on spilled detergent in the supermarket. A roof leak causes a chunk of ceiling to fall on their head in a restaurant. Ice on the walkway causes them to trip while entering the salon.

Luckily, the State of New York has laws protecting the patrons who fall victim to such accidents. Property owners are required to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition. That means if a landlord has a dangerous condition on their premises and is aware of it, the landlord will be liable for any injuries suffered as a result of that dangerous condition. Their insurance will be forced to cover them for any damages a person suffers on their premises.

So if an unfortunate accident happens to you in a place of business or on someone else’s property, there is something you can do about it. You should consult a personal injury attorney with experience in this area of the law. There are also several things you should know. There are two challenges to overcome when it comes to proving liability in a case like this.

The first step in a premises liability case is establishing that a dangerous condition existed at the time of the accident. There is no definitive list of dangerous conditions and the test for determining a dangerous condition is a subjective one. Two reasonable people may look at the same condition and have a different opinion as to whether it’s dangerous or not. However, there are several common types of conditions that are usually found to be dangerous, such as:

  • spilled liquid
  • black ice
  • broken steps

The best way to establish a dangerous condition is with photographic evidence of the dangerous condition, especially if it is a transient condition such as spilled liquid or ice. This way the condition is preserved to be examined at a later date.

Once a dangerous condition is established, the next element to proving a premises liability case is to establish that the property owner had prior knowledge of the dangerous condition. This can be done in two ways, by either actual or constructive notice.

Actual notice means that the property owner actually knew about the dangerous condition before to the accident. This is often difficult to prove since it is hard to demonstrate what a person actually knows. Usually the only way to establish actual notice is through an admission of the property owner.

Constructive notice is somewhat easier to establish. Constructive notice means that the property owner should have known about the dangerous condition. This can be established by showing that a reasonable prudent property owner would have known about the dangerous condition. For example, a property owner should know that ice will be present if the temperature drops after a rainstorm. One important issue that often arises in proving constructive notice is whether the property owner was an absentee landlord or was present on the premises daily or at least on some occasions. A landlord that never or very seldom visits a property may have a strong defense against a constructive notice claim.

If it can be established that a property owner had knowledge of a dangerous condition prior to the accident but failed to remedy it, they will be considered negligent. A negligent landlord will often raise a defense of comparative negligence which means that the plaintiff is either partially at fault or majority at fault for the accident by showing the dangerous condition was open and obvious. This means that had the plaintiff been paying attention they would have seen the dangerous condition and been able to avoid the accident.

Premises liability cases can be difficult to prove. The best way to establish a case is to take pictures of the dangerous condition as soon as possible and consult with a personal injury attorney right away. It is never a good idea to speak to the insurance company on your own in a premises liability case, as they will often trick you into saying something that will harm your case.

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