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Defect in an Interior Stairway in a Residential Building Was Trivial and Not Actionable

August 16, 2018

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<p style="text-align: justify;">Although a landowner has a duty to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition, trivial defects are not actionable. There is no predetermined height differential that renders a defect trivial. Instead, courts must consider the facts presented, including the width, depth, elevation, irregularity and appearance of the defect along with the time, place and circumstance of the injury. Thus, a small difference in height or other physically insignificant defect is actionable if its intrinsic characteristics or the surrounding circumstances magnify the dangers it poses, so that it unreasonably imperils the safety of a pedestrian.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;"><em><a href="">Stanley v. New York City Housing Authority, 2018 NY Slip Op 03726</a> </em>(2<sup>nd</sup> Dep’t, May 23, 2018), demonstrates the rule in action. Plaintiff claims to have tripped on a raised nosing of a step on an interior staircase of a residential building causing a fall. During sworn testimony, plaintiff provided photographs of the alleged defective condition on the stairway. Defendants retained an expert to conduct an inspection of the accident location in light of the testimony. The expert concluded that the alleged defect was located three inches from the left stairway wall, directly underneath the handrail, and that the height differential between the nosing and the stair itself measured approximately one-half inch at its greatest depth.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The defect was deemed trivial based on the location of the defect, which was not on a walking surface of the stairway, along with the fact that the height differential was minimal and the danger posed to the safety of a pedestrian was marginal. Accordingly, the Appellate Division, Second Department, found that the lower court erred in denying defendant’s motion for summary and reversed the lower court’s decision thereby granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.</p>
Thanks to Margaret Adamczak for her contribution to this post.

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