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Court Rules Against Homeowners For Staircase Fall (NY)

July 21, 2017

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <a href=""><em>Lee v Acevedo</em></a> the plaintiff fell backwards down a basement staircase inside the defendants' home. The plaintiff testified at a deposition that she was standing on a landing at the top of the staircase, attempting to close a bedroom door that opened onto the landing and she fell after she stepped backwards and her foot did not step on the landing. The plaintiff further testified that there were no handrails to grab onto to prevent her fall.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging that the size and the configuration of the landing at the top of the basement staircase constituted a dangerous condition since there was insufficient room to safely close the bedroom door. The plaintiff also alleged that the defendants were negligent in failing to provide a handrail on either side of the staircase.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The defendants moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint, arguing that a dangerous condition did not exist and that, in any event, the negligence alleged in the complaint was not a proximate cause of the accident. Suffolk County Supreme Court granted the defendants’ summary judgment motion, but on appeal, the Appellate Division reversed.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Appellate Court’s decision reaffirmed the duty owed by a landowner, holding that a landowner has a duty to maintain his or her property "in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk." However, an owner “has no duty to protect against an open and obvious condition provided that, as a matter of law, the condition is not inherently dangerous."</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Applying this standard, the court found that the defendants failed to establish their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. The decision finds that the deposition testimony failed to eliminate all issues of fact as to whether the conditions alleged in the complaint were inherently dangerous.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Also, the court ruled against the defendants on their proximate issue argument. The court found that the plaintiff's testimony that she reached out to grab something as she was falling, but there was nothing to grab onto, demonstrated that an issue of fact exists as to whether the absence of a handrail was a proximate cause of her injury.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="text-align: justify;">Interestingly, the court implied it expected other proof to be submitted, such as an expert report, perhaps due to plaintiff's argument that the size and configuration of the landing created the unsafe condition.  </span></p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to George Parpas for his contribution to this post and please write to <a href="mailto:">Mike Bono</a> for more information.</p>


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