Every property owner in New York City has a basic obligation to maintain a safe premises for lawful guests. When property owners fail to honor this obligation, and a guest is injured, the owner can be held accountable in what is known as a premises liability lawsuit.
What Is Premises Liability In New York?
Premises liability is a fundamental concept in many personal injury lawsuits, and we’ve already covered its basic aspects. Property owners have a responsibility, both legally and ethically, to take minimal precautions to protect their guests from foreseeable sources of harm. This duty extends throughout the Bronx, from apartment buildings to convenience stores, and even private homes. The sidewalks on our city streets are also covered, as are parking lots. In practice, any property that is owned is embraced by the doctrine of premises liability, even family pets.
It should be clear that premises liability covers a wide variety of personal injury claims. Here’s an incomplete list of accidents that often give rise to owner liability in New York’s courts:
- Slip, trip and fall
- Sidewalk accidents
- Defective elevator and escalator accidents
- Dog bites
- Spills and other hazards in stores
- Property fires
- Toxic fumes, chemicals or lead paint
- Inadequate security in apartment and office buildings
- Amusement park ride accidents
Government property is included under premises liability as well, although filing a lawsuit against a local, city or state government can be particularly difficult. Where personal injury lawsuits are concerned, governments enjoy substantial benefits that private citizens and business owners do not.
Guest Rights & Property Owner Responsibilities
Let’s take a closer look at the concepts behind premises liability, an extremely broad area of civil law.
When someone lawfully enters the property of another person, whether commercial or residential, they can expect that certain safety measures have been taken. After all, we wouldn’t enter the property in the first place if we knew that unreasonably dangerous hazards were present. This expectation, a thoroughly reasonable one, is enshrined in the doctrine of premises liability and established by numerous New York City and State laws.
The duty to maintain reasonably safe premises almost always falls on property owners, although sometimes it will extend to cover third-party management companies. In any event, these entities, who open their premises to legal entry, have a responsibility to fix known hazards as soon as possible, cleaning up spills in store aisles, repairing defective railings and providing guests with adequate light.
Of course, some hazards can’t be fixed right away. That’s okay, but property owners have to make reasonable attempts to warn their guests of these hazards before someone gets hurt. In other cases, property owners will attempt to fix a problem, but fail in their efforts. When a guest is injured, courts will look at how reasonable the owner’s attempt to remedy the hazard was, and determine liability based on their findings.
Property Owner Negligence
When minimal safety measures are neglected, lawful guests can sustain severe injuries. If the victim can prove several key facts about their accident, they may be able to secure financial compensation – all thanks to the doctrine of premises liability.
Not every injury involving someone else’s property will give rise to a viable premises liability lawsuit. Like most personal injury lawsuits, cases that hinge on premises liability usually require a demonstration of negligence. The injured party must show that the property owner used insufficient care in maintaining or owning the property, a carelessness that eventually resulted in injury.
It’s not enough to prove that unsafe conditions existed on the property. Instead, you’ll have to go further, and show that the property owner knew (or should have known) about the unsafe condition, but still failed to remedy it. In other words, the danger must have been at least foreseeable to the owner, if not actually foreseen. Note, however, that a showing of negligence isn’t always necessary, as in cases where it can be demonstrated that a property owner directly caused a serious hazard, rather than simply allowing one to exist.
When you visit someone else’s property, you also have your own duties to take care of. Just as the owner must exercise reasonable care in keeping the property safe, guests are required to use their own reasonable care in keeping themselves safe. One of the most common defenses raised in premises liability lawsuits is that the injured party was, at least partially, responsible for the accident. Even when successful, this defense doesn’t necessarily undermine the entirety of an injured person’s claim.
New York, like most states, uses a “comparative fault” system to assign liability in personal injury cases. The Court will try to assign a percentage of fault to each party involved in the case, defendant and plaintiff alike. Damages will then be calculated based on that percentage. So a plaintiff who is found to be 15% responsible for an accident will see their total damages award reduced by 15%.
What If I Was Trespassing?
Historically, most state laws made a distinction between different types of people who entered the property of others:
- Invitees have express or implied permission to enter, like friends who are invited into a home or customers who plan to shop in a store. Invitation is the key, and it usually implies that reasonable care has been taken to ensure the premises’ safety.
- Licensees also have express or implied permission to enter, but they do so for their own purposes. Traveling salesmen were often covered under this definition, as were some social guests. Licensees are owed a duty of care, but a lesser duty than owners owe to invitees.
- Trespassers are not authorized to enter the premises, but do so anyway. Traditionally, property owners do not owe a duty of care to trespassers, who enter at their own risk.
Many states, including New York, have moved away from these strict definitions over the last few decades, granting even trespassers limited legal protections in the event of injury. While a guest’s status as a trespasser will likely be taken into account, it does not automatically absolve property owners of their duties. In some cases, property owners can still be held liable for unsafe premises, even though the hazards injured trespassers.
Third-Party Premises Liability
In past decades, premises liability normally came up in relation to building hazards, dangers posed by the physical structure of a property, like cracked pavement, wet floors and icy sidewalks. More recent years have seen this legal field evolve to include injuries and wrongful acts caused by third-parties.
Negligent security cases may be the most notable example of this trend. New York’s courts now commonly hold that apartment and office building owners are responsible for maintaining adequately secure properties. As a result, some property owners can be held accountable for failing to fix locks or provide adequate fencing, in the event that someone is assaulted or murdered due to insufficient security measures.
Injuries On Bronx Sidewalks
As for New York’s sidewalks, most of these apparently-public spaces are actually the responsibility of adjacent property owners, according to the New York City Administrative Code. This is true even in the case of private homes, whose owners can be held accountable for failing to take care of ice and snow hazards during the winter or failing to have cracked paving stones repaired throughout the year.
Counter-intuitively, people who are injured on New York’s sidewalks don’t usually file suit against New York. Instead, they file suit against the owner whose property was adjacent to the sidewalk in question.
Is There A Time Limit To Sue?
Yes. As in every other state, New York has established strict time limits that restrict the amount of time people have to file lawsuits over premises liability. This law is called a “statute of limitations.”
Most cases involving premises liability in the Bronx will be governed by a standard 3 year statute of limitations, which begins to run on the date of the incident that led to your injuries. When a child has been injured, another law kicks in, which pauses the statute of limitations until the child turns 18, and then allows up to 3 years for the lawsuit to be filed.
Cases involving a wrongful death are covered by a different law, which provides certain surviving loved ones up to 2 years from the date of death to file suit over dangerous property conditions.