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Proving Damages In Slip-And-Fall Cases

slip and fall sign

These incidents often cause serious injuries, particularly among people over 65. Falls are the second-leading cause of injury-related death among people of this age group, as falls are fatal for about 15,000 seniors a year. These victims and their families are usually entitled to significant compensation not only for medical bills and other economic losses, but also for pain and suffering and other noneconomic losses.

Landowners are normally responsible for these damages. Victim/plaintiffs essentially must establish two elements in New York courts for liability to attach.

The Duty of New York Landowners

To determine legal responsibility in a slip-and-fall matter, New York and most other states use a variation of a common law classification system which divides victims into:

  • Invitees,
  • Licensees, and
  • Trespassers.

Most victims are invitees, because the owner benefits, either socially or economically, from their presence on the land. A potential benefit is usually sufficient, because people like vendors and window-shoppers are invitees even though no money changes hands. In these cases, the landowner has a duty to inspect the premises and make them reasonably safe.

A much smaller number of victims are licensees. These people have implied permission to be on the land, but they convey no actual or potential benefit on the owner. Guests of apartment tenants are usually licensees, as are people who cut across parking lots on their way from one place to another. A lesser duty applies here, as owners must only warn licensees of latent (hidden) defects.

Finally, owners in New York have almost no duty towards trespassers, or people who are on the land without permission. The stories of injured burglars who sue homeowners for negligence are largely urban legends. There are some exceptions. Most prominently, under the attractive nuisance doctrine, owners with swimming pools or other places where children are likely to play may be liable for damages even if the victim snuck onto the property without permission.

Establishing Knowledge in a Brooklyn Slip-and-Fall Case

A legal obligation to protect the victim is insufficient by itself. Additionally, victims must establish that the landowner knew about the dangerous condition but did not correct it. In this context, the victim/plaintiff can prove either actual knowledge or constructive knowledge (should have known).

Evidence of actual knowledge includes things like surveillance video that shows the defect, a bathroom maintenance report, prior complaints, and “cleanup on aisle five” announcements. A personal injury attorney usually uncovers such evidence during discovery.

In lieu of actual knowledge, victim/plaintiffs can use circumstantial evidence to establish constructive knowledge. This rule comes from Anjou v. Boston Elevated Railway Company. In this case, Ms. Anjou slipped and fell on a banana peel and the railroad station owner denied knowledge of the defect. The court later held that the owner was liable. Since the peel was black and gritty, the court reasoned that the peel had been on the floor for a long time and the owner should have known about the hazard.

So, if witnesses report a wet spot or some other hazard, the jury may conclude that the owner should have known about the dangerous defect.

Connect With Experienced Attorneys

Landowners are usually liable for damages in slip-and-fall cases. However there are usually exceptions to the law; for example, in New York, there are exceptions in liability regarding one- to four-family homes. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Brooklyn contact The Law Offices of David J. Hernandez & Associates.


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