When a person has a slip and fall accident inside the common areas of a commercial or residential building, it is essential that he or she gives as accurate a description as possible of the substance or object that caused the fall. Courts frequently dismiss cases when a plaintiff is unable to identify the cause of their injuries. Simply saying “I slipped and fell to the ground while walking on a staircase” is not enough. The reasoning for this is that without offering a description of what caused the fall, a judge can only guess whether a property owner was responsible for the accident.
However, a person can avoid his or her case getting dismissed when they can provide some details about the substance that caused them to fall, whether it was wet, oily, soapy or icy. Courts are generally willing to find that the plaintiff has a valid lawsuit that a jury can consider when the person is able to offer some description of the substance she slipped on. This is even if they are unable to specify, for example, whether they slipped on water, soap or oil.
In a recent case involving a slip and fall, a postal worker was walking down a staircase inside a residential building. She claimed that she slipped and fell due to a “wet and slippery substance” on the stairs. However, she never described the exact nature of the substance that she slipped on.
The plaintiff sued the building owner and management company claiming they were aware or should have been aware of the wet substance and removed it from the staircase before the accident. In response, the defendants claimed that the plaintiff was unable to identify the cause of her fall without guessing.
After the completion of discovery, the defendants made a motion asking the court to dismiss the injured party’s case. They claimed the court should dismiss the lawsuit since the plaintiff did not identify the substance that caused her fall. They further claimed they did not create the wet or slippery condition on the stairs, nor did they have any prior notice of a wet or slippery condition on the stairs.
In New York, a property owner is responsible for maintaining the common areas of a building in a reasonably safe condition. When an owner is sued based on a person slipping and falling inside its building, the owner can argue the case should be dismissed before it goes to trial by proving it did not create the dangerous condition that caused the accident and it was never made aware of the condition.
Another argument the property owner often makes is that the injured person does not know what caused him or her to fall. The property owner proves this by relying on the plaintiff’s testimony. The inability to identify the cause of the fall is fatal to a lawsuit.
In the case involving the staircase, the lower court agreed with the plaintiff’s argument and denied the motion to dismiss the case. On appeal, the appellate court upheld the lower court. Although the injured party could not say the exact nature of the substance that caused her to fall from the staircase, her saying she slipped on a wet substance was enough to avoid dismissal. The court noted that for her to have a valid case, she was not obligated to identify the exact nature of the wet substance that she slipped and fell on. This was distinguished from those cases where a person does not identify what caused her fall.
The appellate court also agreed with the lower court that the building owner was unable to prove that it lacked any knowledge about the wet and slippery substance. whether its employees cleaned or inspected the staircase close in time to the accident. It was therefore unable to prove it was incapable of cleaning the dangerous wet condition that the plaintiff slipped on.
This case shows when a person is injured by a slip and fall inside a building, his or her awareness of the type of substance that caused the accident, whether it was wet or slippery, can be the difference between having a successful case and a dismissed case. It also shows how a property owner responsible for maintaining a building must be diligent in inspecting and cleaning common areas such as lobbies, elevators or staircases of any wet substances. Contacting an attorney will help investigate your slip and fall accident, including questioning witnesses and taking photographs of the area where you fell.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of an accident, please reach out to us for a free legal consultation by calling us 24/7 at 212– 514–5100, emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visiting our law firm in lower Manhattan (42 Broadway, Suite 1927). You can also ask us questions through the 24-hour chat box on our website (www.plattalaw.com). We offer free consultations for all potential personal injury cases.