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Have You Been Outside Lately? LIABILITY FOR SLIPS AND FALLS ON ICE

This year New York City has experienced one of its worst winters on record and its not over yet. In fact, January 2011 snowfall accumulations have surpassed the previous record in NYC. While the City may have appeared magical to some and a winter wonderland to others, the wet, blustery and snowy conditions resulted in many accidents for drivers, as well as for pedestrians. Therefore, it is important to understand not only who, if any, are the responsible parties but also under what circumstances a duty of care is owed by municipalities and property owners to the pedestrians who slip and fall on ice.

If you have walked thru a parking lot or driveway, on a sidewalk or walkway recently, you probably noticed the accumulation of slush or ice from melting snow.You may have also seen large frozen patches of ice at the entrance to stores or commercial businesses and even experienced a patch of hard to detect A black ice @ that causes you to skate unsteadily over it. What happens if you slip and fall on any of these conditions; is it a negligent or actionable condition?

Generally, a pedestrian who slips and falls on ice, sustaining an injury, must establish that the dangerous condition existed for some time prior to the last snow or ice storm and not be a storm in progress at the time of the fall.Sidewalks are a unique situation since they are owned by the municipality in which they are located and were the responsibility of the City or Town to maintain. However, since September 14, 2003, a NYC regulation known as the NYC Sidewalk Law [Section 7-210 of the New York City Administrative Code] was enacted to shift liability for sidewalk accidents from the City of New York to the abutting property owners. On snow and ices cases within the City of New York , appellate court held:

"The owner or lessee of property abutting a public sidewalk is under no duty to remove ice and snow that naturally accumulates upon the sidewalk unless a statute or ordinance specifically imposes tort liability for failing to do so" (Bruzzo v County of Nassau, 50 AD3d 720, 721; see Robles v City of New York, 56 AD3d 647; see Bisontt v Rockaway One Co., LLC, 47 AD3d 862, 963; Jablons v Peak Health Club, Inc., 19 AD3d 369, 370). Here, since section 7‑210 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York applies, the respondent property owner and tenant were required to remove snow and ice [*2]from the abutting sidewalk. Snow removal efforts were undertaken by the respondent contractor two days prior to the accident. @ Plotits v Houaphing D. Chaou, LLC 2011 NY Slip Op 00665 (2 nd Dept. February 1, 2011)

Accordingly, a retail business within the five boroughs can now be held negligent if it failed to clear the entrances/exits after a reasonable amount of time has passed once the storm has subsided.Two days after the storm is certainly a reasonable amount of time to clear an exit, whereby two hours may be deemed an unreasonably short amount of time to correct the condition which was not created by the owner, but rather was an act of nature. Of course, the location will often dictate the urgency of the timing of the snow removal. For instance, the entryway to a hospital emergency room will require greater attention.

If a customer slips and falls on snow in the entranceway, the store owner may be responsible, however, YOU, as the injured pedestrian, must be sure of the specific area where the accident occurred and that a report is made to the property owner.Notice and opportunity to correct the dangerous condition are often the keys to winning these cases. Shoveling and sanding or salting are important methods of keeping the area less dangerous and depending upon the foot traffic, maybe absolutely essential actions for the prudent property owner to undertake. In the absence of due care which results in a fall, photographs of the area as it appeared at the time of your accident (captured by cell phone or digital cameras) are often key pieces of evidence in helping to achieve a successful outcome and in establishing liability. Stay alert and be safe!