The legal theory behind premises liability is that property owners are responsible for harm or damage that may occur on their property. Property owners owe a standard of care to protect a visitor from injury who is either on the premises legally or is a trespasser.
In the case of a slip and fall, the liable party may be a grocery or retail store owner, hotel or apartment owner or manager, or a municipal, state, or federal government entity. The injured party may have slipped on wet floor or on icy steps, tripped on an exposed cord, or experienced injury from a crack in the road or exposed manhole.
Despite the legal theory, proving a slip-and-fall claim in New York and elsewhere can be challenging. Landowners may receive protections from the law, and the statute of limitations for filing a claim against government entities may limit their liability. When filing a lawsuit in Cattaraugus County, it is important to understand which parties may be liable and the investigative process necessary for the claim to be successful.
Making a case for negligence
The circumstances behind every slip-and-fall case are different, and ultimately it is the court that will determine if the property owner was negligent or if the guest was careless based on the evidence each party presents. The injured party, called the plaintiff, must prove that there was a dangerous condition on the premises that caused the injury, and that the owner knew this because:
- They created the condition.
- They knew it existed but did not correct it.
- The condition was present so long that the owner must have known about it and did not correct it.
Common defense strategies
Property owners and business entities often use the open and obvious doctrine as a defense against slip-and-fall claims. According to this common law theory, the hazard was obvious, and a reasonable person should have seen it and taken measures to avoid it.
The defense will also question if the property owner’s duty to meet a reasonable standard of care is applicable under the circumstance in which the injury occurred. For example, they may question if the visitor had permission to be on the premises at that time, if they were using the property as intended, and if the owner’s attempts to warn the visitor or to fix the problem were reasonable and sufficient.
In New York, contributory negligence does not bar partial recovery, which means that if the plaintiff was bears some responsible for their injury, they may still recover the percentage of fault that is attributable to the defendant.