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A Pair of Recent New York Rulings Highlight What it Takes to Overcome a Defense Claim that a Property Defect was ‘Trivial’

If you are injured in a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accident, there are several potential pitfalls that may ensnare your case on the way to an award of compensation. The property owner may argue that it did not know, and could not reasonably have known, about the hazard. Alternatively, the facts in your case may lead the defense to argue that the hazard that allegedly felled you was too trivial to allow for a judgment of liability and award of compensation. Overcoming these and other arguments requires a careful knowledge of the law and an in-depth understanding regarding the evidence needed in a premises liability case. To make sure you have a strong case, make sure you contact a skilled New York premises liability attorney about your accident.

Two different recent rulings highlight what it takes to overcome an argument about the size of the defect that harmed you. In the first case, Nancy was a customer headed inside a convenience store on Long Island. Nancy allegedly suffered substantial injuries when she tripped and fell on a defect in the store’s parking lot. The store asked the court to throw out the case, arguing that the parking lot defect was “trivial as a matter of law.”

New York law is very clear that property owners are not liable for injuries caused by trivial defects. The law does not, however, have a specific definition of what makes a defect trivial as opposed to non-trivial. The court in Nancy’s case explained that there “is no ‘minimal dimension test’ or per se rule that a defect must be of a certain minimum height or depth.” The law requires courts to look at all of the evidence. In other words, a relatively small defect might be non-trivial and allow for an award of compensation if it had certain other things that would potentially make it comparatively dangerous. This included things like “a jagged edge; a rough, irregular surface; the presence of other defects in the vicinity; poor lighting; or a location—such as a parking lot, premises entrance/exit, or heavily traveled walkway—where pedestrians are naturally distracted from looking down at their feet.”

The burden is on the property owner, if it is seeking a summary judgment based upon an argument of triviality, to bring to the court adequate proof that the defect was too small and trivial. The convenience store’s evidence was insufficient in this case, so Nancy was allowed to proceed to trial.

Even if the property owner has evidence that the defect was small, you may be able to counter that, defeat the property owner’s request for summary judgment, and still get your day in court. The second of the two recent cases involved a prison inmate who fell while walking along a walkway to the commissary. The state had proof that the defect that caused the accident was trivial. The inmate was still allowed to sue, however. The court in his case explained that “physically small defects [are] actionable when their surrounding circumstances or intrinsic characteristics make them difficult for a pedestrian to see or to identify as hazards or difficult to traverse safely on foot.” Regardless of the proof the state had about the size of the defect, the inmate had evidence that the walkway was “difficult to traverse safely on foot,” so that meant that he had a viable slip-and-fall case.

If you have been hurt because of a dangerous condition on someone else’s property, reach out to the experienced Queens premises liability attorneys at Newman, Anzalone & Newman. Our team has been aiding injured people for four decades. To put our experience to work for you, schedule a free consultation with one of our qualified attorneys. Contact us toll-free at 877-754-3099 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Overcoming an ‘Open and Obvious’ Defense Argument to Get Your New York Trip and Fall Case to Trial, New York Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, Jan. 2, 2018

Avoiding Summary Judgment in a New York Slip-and-Fall Case Alleging Constructive Notice, New York Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, Sept. 1, 2017

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