Articles Posted in Slip and Fall Accidents in New York

Slip and fall accidents can happen almost anywhere, and while some people may be able to brace for the fall, these incidents can have serious consequences. While many people associate slip and falls and trip and falls with grocery stores or parking lots, New York slip and falls occur at various locations, such as construction sites, sidewalks, public offices, businesses, parks, playgrounds, and schools. In some cases, a renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy may cover an injury victim’s losses. When the incident occurs at a business or construction site, compensation recovery becomes more onerous.

Business owners may use commercial or corporate liability coverage to address a person’s losses. However, many of these entities refuse to concede liability and go to great lengths to protect their financial and societal standing. Matters only become more complicated when a stairwell accident occurs at a construction site or to an employee.

The first inquiry is determining who is at fault for the accident. Generally, the owner or property owner may be responsible under New York’s premises liability laws. However, these claims may encompass product liability, negligence, and workers’ compensation issues. Many claims fall under manufacturing, design, or failure to warn defects. Further, the defect may stem from negligent construction.

Living in New York, large buildings are commonplace. Most residents can live their entire life in the city and never encounter a major problem with a building. However, the recent tragedy in Florida illustrates that building collapses are not unheard of and, when they occur, they can have disastrous implications.

Last week, an apartment building in Miami collapsed, killing at least eight and leaving more than 150 unaccounted for. The investigation into the collapse is so far taking a back seat to locating all missing residents; however, ultimately, state and federal investigators will look into what could have caused the huge building to collapse.

According to a recent news report, there is already some speculation as to what could have been done to prevent the catastrophe. For example, CNN recently published an article citing a letter written by the board president of the building. In the letter, she notes, “the concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof situation got much worse, so extensive roof repairs had to be incorporated…the observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse since the initial inspection.” This leads to the natural question: why didn’t building management take the necessary steps to secure the building.

A New York appellate court recently issued an opinion addressing contractor liability for defects resulting in a slip-and-fall. Generally, New York slip-and-falls fall under premises liability theories of negligence. Although slip-and-fall cases might seem straightforward, each case is unique and successful recovery depends on the property owner’s status and circumstances surrounding the fall. Common defendants in New York slip-and-fall cases are property owners, government or city entities, and construction or contracting companies.

Property owners maintain the duty to keep their premises in a reasonably safe condition. These duties include removing snow and ice from their property, ensuring that their stairs and elevators work properly, and securing their property from foreseeable criminal activities. However, reasonableness can be relative, and injury victims must prepare a compelling and legally sound case. Courts will look to various factors when determining whether a property owner’s conduct was reasonable. Some considerations include how long the defective or unsafe condition existed, and the amount of time the owner had to address the hazardous condition. Moreover, defendants will often impute fault on the victim, and plaintiffs must be able to address any contributory negligence claims.

In certain situations, the city may hold full responsibility for a slip-and-fall accident, such as when the accident:

Owners of real property owe a duty of care to people invited onto their property under the legal theory of “premises liability,” a common-law doctrine derived from the theory of negligence (i.e., the absence of ordinary care). Premises liability generally holds that a property owner has a duty to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition, and may be liable for injuries caused by a hazardous condition. The “trivial defects” doctrine is an important exception to New York premises liability. It holds that a property owner is not liable if the defect, when examined in light of the unique circumstances of the site, is not objectively dangerous. The New York Court of Appeals has held on several occasions that this is a question of fact best left to a jury. Courts in New York’s 9th Judicial District, whose jurisdiction consists of Westchester, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, and Rockland Counties, have considered several claims recently involving the trivial defect doctrine, and have often sided with plaintiffs.

In a negligence claim, a plaintiff has the burden of proving four elements. First, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed a duty of care, either to the plaintiff or the general public. Second, they must demonstrate that the defendant breached this duty of care. Third, they must show that this breach was the cause-in-fact of the plaintiff’s injuries. Finally, the plaintiff must substantiate measurable damages resulting from their injuries.

Premises liability involves a particular duty of care, from a property owner to individuals who have been invited onto the property. In some situations, such as the “attractive nuisance” doctrine, this duty of care also extends to trespassers. A plaintiff must show that the property owner knew or should have known about a defect or hazard on the property, and that they breached their duty of care by failing to repair the defect, insufficiently repairing it, or failing to warn visitors about it.
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You have just tripped on an uneven step in your apartment building complex, or slipped and fell in a parking lot where the owner failed to shovel and apply salt, or stepped into a hole that the property owner neglected to repair, and you have suffered a serious injury. Maybe you have never been injured in your life, never filed a claim, certainly never been involved in a lawsuit. Now you are injured, will require significant medical treatment, and will likely to be unable to work for some time due to the negligence of the property owner or manager. What should you do, even before you contact an attorney?

1. Try to identify any witnesses, and to the extent possible, obtain their names and phone numbers or email addresses. This is critical, as insurance companies approach unwitnessed accidents with a great deal of skepticism. Further, if the case reaches trial, it is vital to have another person (preferably someone unrelated to you if possible) who can verify the dangerous conditions and how the accident happened.

2. To the extent that you are able to do so, take photographs of the uneven step, icy sidewalk, or other dangerous conditions. If you are unable to do so due to the pain, try to ask someone nearby to you use your cell phone and take photographs. This is another critical piece of evidence to support your case, which in the case of a transient condition such as an icy sidewalk, might no longer exist the next day and cannot be duplicated to show an insurance adjuster or a jury, if necessary.

3. Report your accident to the property owner when possible, or if there is no owner available or known, report the accident to the police so that a report is prepared which confirms the location, date, time and description of your accident and injuries.

4. Get yourself to the nearest emergency room or primary care doctor for evaluation and treatment if necessary. Many times clients are in a great deal of pain, but postpone getting treated, with the idea that “I’ll feel better tomorrow”, or they are fearful of hospitals in general. The problem is that this can be dangerous (for example, if you suffer a concussion immediate treatment can be very important) and insurance carriers take into consideration the failure to go for immediate medical treatment when analyzing a case.

5. Don’t speak with anyone from the insurance company for the owner of the property, who may call you to obtain a recorded or written statement. They are trained to ask questions in a fashion which will inevitably attribute culpability of the accident to you.

6. Whatever you do, do not sign anything without meeting with an attorney first. Often, an insurance adjuster will approach a person who has been injured in an accident with a token offer of settlement, in exchange for the injured person’s signature on a “general release”, which if signed, will likely terminate that person’s rights to pursue legal remedies for their injuries.

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With the incredibly snowy winter we’re having here in the Metropolitan area, people are slipping on icy sidewalks and stairways and suffering very serious injuries. In New York, in order to be successful in a slip and fall accident, you must be able to establish that the landowner had “notice” of the dangerous condition of the walkway or stairs prior to the accident. Notice can be either “constructive”; that is, that the landlord or property owner “knew of should have known” of the icy conditions–i.e. the landlord has his or her office there and could observe the dangerous conditions, or “actual”, meaning that the property owner knew of the snow or ice by virtue of a letter, e-mail or phone call specifically informing she or he about the snow and ice conditions.

If you are the victim of a slip and fall on ice or snow, make sure that you do the following:

1. Take photographs of the area where you fell from numerous different angles (have a friend or relative do this for you after learning of the accident). This is critical, as particularly in snow and ice accident cases, most of the time the conditions have changed or have disappeared within hours after the accident, making it much more difficult to prove your case if the case proceeds to litigation.

2. Obtain the names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of all witnesses to the accident. This is another critically important factor in proving cases, as defendants and insurance companies frequently utilize the defense that the accident either did not occur at all or did not happen where the injured person says it did.

3. Report the accident to the property owner, and if possible, obtain a copy of the accident report.

4. Report the accident to the police, and request a copy of the police report.

5. Keep any damaged property or clothing in a safe place as it will be evidence in the case.

6. Seek hospital and medical treatment immediately. It is vital that you make sure that the triage nurse correctly describes the happening of the accident and that you confirm this before leaving the hospital. We are seeing an increase (either for reasons or carelessness or more sinister reasons) in admitting notes which distinctly blame the accident on the injured person without any foundation, for example: “patient reported that while late for work, he slipped on the driveway and broke his left arm”, or “while attempting to answer her cellphone, patient didn’t observe the ice on the sidewalk and fell, landing on her right hip.” In both of these cases, the admitting notes were completely inaccurate, but once you leave the hospital, try to convince the insurance company of that fact.

As for don’ts, there are two critical ones to remember. First, do not sign anything from an insurance company for the property owner. For example, they will often contact you before you are aware of the extent for your injuries, offering to pay for your medical bills in exchange for your signature on a “release” which will end your rights to bring a claim or lawsuit. Second, do not agree to give a recorded statement on the telephone to the insurance adjuster. These insurance representatives are trained in asking questions to elicit answers which attribute the fault of the accident to you.

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If you suffer an injury by, for example, falling on a crack in the sidewalk, slipping on a spilled substance at the supermarket, or on ice on a stairway at the mall, there are several things you must do to pursue a New York slip and fall case:

1. Obtain the names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of any potential witnesses. This includes people who observed you fall, as well as those who came on the scene afterward but can attest to pain, suffering and the extent of your injuries;
2. If possible, take photographs of the condition that caused you to fall, or have a friend or relative do the same. This is vital, as conditions such as a spilled substance or ice on the ground are frequently gone by the time you return with a camera if immediate photographs are not taken;

3. Report the accident to the property owner, request that a written report be prepared and obtain a copy of any statement that is prepared. If there is incorrect information on the report, make sure that this is rectified before you leave the premises.

4. Take photographs of any injuries you suffered. Remember that swelling, bruising and severe cuts will begin to heal and you want to document how the injury appeared immediately after the accident;
5. Obtain medical treatment at a local emergency room or private doctor and make sure that you report the history so that it is documented that your injuries were caused due to the slip and fall accident;
6. Do not under any circumstances provide a recorded statement to insurance company representatives who are trained in asking questions that attempt to shift the blame to you;

7. DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING FROM THE INSURANCE COMPANY without consulting an attorney. They often will contact you with an offer to pay your medical bills in exchange for your signature on a binding “general release” which will prevent you from initiating a claim or lawsuit for your injuries.

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Let’s say you are at the supermarket, shopping mall, hardware store, or even walking on the sidewalk in New York. Despite walking carefully and in no hurry, you slip on ice, a foreign substance, or maybe you trip over an uneven portion of sidewalk. What are the general rules governing slip/trip and fall accidents?

If you slip and fall and there are people around, (even if you are in a lot of pain), try to get the names, phone numbers and addresses of any witnesses. They will be critical if you plan to pursue a claim, and too often, the identity of these witnesses (even if they have stopped to assist you) is lost once medical help arrives. Remember that insurance companies and the attorneys who defend their insureds are notoriously skeptical people, and always assume that the accident was your fault–i.e. not looking where you were going, in a hurry to get to an appointment, you’re unsteady on your feet, or perhaps you were wearing the wrong type of footwear for inclement conditions. In our firm’s experience, when we have a witness who can corroborate our client’s version of the accident (especially someone who never met the client before) cases tend to settle well before they ever reach trial and frequently in the early stages of the claim.

The next critical thing to remember is to take photographs of the scene of the accident, if at all possible. The ice will melt, the spilled cleaner will be removed, and even that defective section of sidewalk will very often be repaired by the time you walk into the lawyer’s office. Thus, if you have a camera phone, or if a friend or the witness has a camera, take photographs of the condition–We can’t emphasize this enough!