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School District Fails to Slip Away from Liability for Plaintiff's Fall (NY)

November 27, 2019

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In <a href=""><em>Williams v. Island Trees Union Free Sch.</em> <em>Dist</em></a><em>.</em>, a New York court addresses the level of evidence required for a defendant to claim it lacked constructive notice of a dangerous condition.  In <em>Williams</em>, the plaintiff allegedly slipped and fell on clear liquid in the south cafeteria of Island Trees High School, which was under the control of the Island Trees Union Free School District. According to plaintiff, the accident occurred when she was walking in the cafeteria toward an "Aquafina" vending machine and both of her feet slipped out from underneath her. She then fell to the ground where she noticed a puddle of water which was approximately two inches wide and three to four feet long trailing from her spot on the ground to the vending machine.

Plaintiff commenced an action to recover damages for personal injuries against the School District and Dover Gourmet Corp., the company with which the School District allegedly contracted with to stock the vending machine. Plaintiff alleged the School District was negligent in, among other things, maintaining the premises. The School District subsequently moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint asserted against it. The New York Supreme Court granted the School District's motion. In response, plaintiff appealed.

The New York Appellate Division, Second Department determined that the School District had failed to demonstrate, on a prima facie level, that it did not have constructive notice of the alleged water condition that caused plaintiff to fall. The court reiterated that "to meet its initial burden on the issue of lack of constructive notice, the defendant must offer evidence as to when the area in question was last cleaned or inspected relative to the time when the plaintiff fell." In this case, the Court found that the School District failed to provide evidence regarding any specific cleaning or inspection of the area in question relative to the time when plaintiff's accident occurred.  Accordingly, the Court reversed the lower court’s order.

This decision serves as an important reminder that it is crucial for a moving party to adequately demonstrate that it lacked constructive notice of a condition that allegedly caused a plaintiff's accident when making a motion for summary judgment.

Thank you to Caitlin Larke for her contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Colleen E. Hayes</a> with any questions.


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