New York property owners are required to keep their premises in a reasonably safe condition and not expose visitors to dangerous "traps." This same requirement generally extends to landlords, as well as to commercial establishments such as shopping malls, retail stores, restaurants, amusement parks and other businesses.
If a property owner failed in this duty and a person was injured as a result, the injured person may be able to recover compensation from the property owner by filing a personal injury lawsuit. These types of lawsuits are referred to as "premises liability" lawsuits.
Common Premises Liability Cases
Common premises liability cases include:
- "Slip and fall" or "trip and fall" injuries. These accidents are often caused by debris or obstructions in areas where people walk, including slippery, icy or wet surfaces, or dangerously uneven surfaces.
- "Attractive nuisance" injuries. "Attractive nuisances" are things like pools that may be attractive to children who often cannot understand that they may be in danger. Landowners who did not take additional steps to prevent children from being injured by an "attractive nuisance" can potentially be held financially responsible (liable) for resulting injuries.
- Negligent security. A property owner's duty can extend to taking reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable criminal activity on his or her property. For example, if a landlord knew there had been a series of break-ins on the property and failed to repair a broken security gate or lock, a person who was injured as the result of third-party criminal activity might be able to recover compensation from the property owner.
- Animal injury. An animal owner must prevent his or her animals from attacking someone. But a property owner has the same duty, and must keep visitors safe from attack by vicious animals (typically, but not exclusively, dogs). If you are bitten by a dog and the property owner knew or should have known of the animal's "vicious propensities," you may be entitled to compensation from both the dog's owner and the property owner. Animal injury cases are a special kind of premises liability case, with their own special rules.
Proving Negligence in a New York Premises Liability Case
Most premises liability cases involve a claim of negligence, meaning the property owner did something a reasonably prudent property owner wouldn't do, or didn't do something that a reasonably prudent property owner would do. The elements of a successful negligence claim are: the responsible party had a duty, they breached that duty, the breach caused injury, and the injury resulted in damages.
- Duties of property owners. New York property owners are generally required to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition. This includes a duty to repair or to warn of the existence of dangerous conditions. In general, a similar duty of care extends to everyone who comes onto a property, even to trespassers in some cases.
- Breach of duty. To prove that a property owner failed in their duty, the injured person must show that the property owner knew about—or should have known about—the dangerous condition and that the property owner failed to correct or warn of it. For example, if a tenant notified a landlord about a broken handrail and the landlord did not fix it in a reasonable amount of time, that could be a breach of duty. Generally, the property owner must also be given sufficient time to correct the dangerous condition before they can be considered negligent. For example, a property owner does not have a duty to clear ice and snow off a sidewalk in the middle of a snowstorm.
- Causing injury. The mere presence of a dangerous condition is not sufficient to make a successful premises liability claim. The injured person must also be able to prove that the dangerous condition caused his or her injuries.
- Causing damages. The injury must also have caused physical or financial losses (also known as damages). A scraped knee or minor bruise likely won't cause the level of physical or financial losses sufficient to make a successful premises liability claim.
Compensation in New York Premises Liability Cases
There are three types of compensation (or damages) that can potentially be awarded in New York premises liability cases:
- Economic damages (medical expenses or lost wages, etc.)
- Non-economic damages (pain and suffering for physical injuries), and
- Punitive damages.
Economic damages (also called special damages) are designed to compensate the injured person for measurable financial losses. This includes medical expenses, as well as lost wages from missing work after an injury. The amount that can be awarded includes the actual financial losses suffered by the injured person in the past, as well as the foreseeable future financial losses.
Non-economic damages (also called general damages) are intended to compensate for non-financial losses, such as pain and suffering. New York does not cap or limit the amount of damages that may be awarded for non-economic losses. Factors that may affect the amount of general damages that are awarded include: the severity of the injury, how long and how much the injured person suffered, and the long-term impact of the injury on the person's quality of life.
Punitive damages are a special category of damages that are designed to punish and deter particularly dangerous behavior. Generally, these types of damages are only awarded if a property owner has been reckless or willfully and wantonly caused injury. It is unusual to receive punitive damages in a premises liability case.
It is important to note that New York is a comparative negligence state. This means that injured parties who are partially responsible for their own injuries are still entitled to receive damages, although the amount they receive will be reduced in proportion to their percentage of fault. For example, if a jury awards $100,000 in a premises liability case, but finds that the injured person was 30% at fault, the injured person would receive $70,000 (the total amount awarded, less 30% for their partial fault). These rules may not apply if the injured person was a construction worker injured on a construction site. Construction workers are entitled to special protection under the law.
What to do if you were injured on someone else's property?
Property owners are likely to vigorously defend themselves against a premises liability lawsuit. Property owners may claim that the dangerous condition was "open and obvious" and therefore they did not have a duty to warn against it. Or they may try to prove that the injured person was partially responsible for causing their own injuries, thereby reducing the property owner's financial responsibility for the injuries.
That is why it is important to have a knowledgeable attorney who will fight just as hard to get you the compensation you deserve. If you or a loved one were injured on someone else's property, contact Frost & Kavanaugh today.