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The Court of Appeals Opines on the NYC Sidewalk Law

February 23, 2016

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When a plaintiff sues for a trip and fall over a defective sidewalk in the City of New York, the controlling law is New York City Administrative Code §7-210. This statute states that when personal injury is caused by a defective sidewalk, the abutting property owner will be liable if it failed to maintain the sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition. Sometimes, when a sidewalk defect is on or near the border of two adjacent properties, the plaintiff will sue both property owners in an effort to maximize a potential settlement.
In <a href="" rel="">Sangaray v West River Associates LLC</a>, the plaintiff tripped and fell when his toe came into contact with a raised portion of a New York City sidewalk. The sidewalk flag ran from the front of a property owned by defendant ‘West River’ to an adjacent property owned by defendant ‘Mercados.’ West River moved for summary judgment arguing that because the area of the sidewalk upon which plaintiff tripped was located entirely in front of the Mercado property, the defect did not abut the West River property, and consequently, West River could not be held liable. The trial court granted West River’s motion, and the Appellate Division affirmed. Plaintiff appealed to the New York State Court of Appeals which overturned the decisions of the lower courts and denied West River’s motion.
The Court of Appeals reasoned that although the location of the actual defect is significant, it does not “foreclose the possibility that a neighboring property owner may also be subject to liability for failing to maintain its own abutting sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition where it appears that such failure constituted a proximate cause of the injury sustained.” In this case, the Court noted that most of the sunken sidewalk flag that the plaintiff traversed abutted West River’s property. Thus, even though the actual defect may have technically abutted the Mercado property, West River failed to meet its burden since there remained factual questions as to whether it breached its duty to maintain the sidewalk flag abutting its property and, if so, whether that breach constituted a proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries.
When defending a sidewalk defect trip and fall in the City of New York, defense counsel should be mindful of this holding. Although a co-defendant may believe it is entitled to summary judgment based simply on the exact location of the sidewalk defect, the necessary legal analysis is more nuanced. Defendants must consider whether a co-defendant property owner’s failure to maintain its portion of the sidewalk can, in any way, be considered a proximate cause of the accident. In doing so, it may be possible to successfully oppose a co-defendant’s motion for summary judgment
Thanks to Jeremy Seeman for his contribution to this post.

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