Property owners have a responsibility to see that the physical safety of their visitors is protected. Because the owner of a property is in the best position to ensure the safety of that property, the duty to maintain it properly is most efficiently allocated to the owner. Therefore, when a visitor to an owner’s premises is injured due to a safety hazard, the victim may be entitled to file a claim against the property owner. Whether the incident involved a slip-and-fall accident, burn injury, or back injury, the injured victim is advised to contact an attorney to help recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering associated with the accident.
Under premises liability law restaurant owners, store owners, homeowners, and other property owners are all legally obligated to ensure that their premises are not inherently dangerous. Unsafe conditions such as broken steps, slippery floors, or faulty construction can result in serious injury if proper precautions are not taken, leaving property owners vulnerable to a premises liability lawsuit filed by the injured victim. Property owners have the responsibility to maintain safe conditions on their properties and remove hazardous obstacles, objects or equipment from the premesis including:
- Removing fire and electrical hazards;
- Filling in holes in the ground outside;
- Securing carpets, wires, and any other objects affixed to the floor;
- Fixing all broken steps, handrails, and platforms;
- Providing adequate lighting in all areas;
- Securing all hanging light fixtures, signs, and decorations;
- Removing accumulated snow, ice, and leaves; and
- Cleaning up any spills that can pose a slipping hazard promptly after being notified of the spills.
When a property owner cannot remove a hazard in a timely manner, he or she must warn visitors of the hazards in a clear, obvious way. This can be done with caution tape, signage, or objects like traffic cones or “wet floor” signs. If a guest suffers an injury because of a hazard the property owner should have know about and removed, the property owner may be liable for the victim’s damages. These can include medical bills, lost wages, and any additional expenses related to the victim’s injury. Below are three types of accident that can result from a property owner’s failure to safely maintain his or her property. If you are injured in this type of accident, seek medical aid as soon as you can.
Stairway and Elevator Accidents
In New York, buildings are tall and stairways and elevators are part of any multi-story building. They can also be very dangerous for users, particularly if they are not maintained properly.
New York has a set of specific laws that landlords must follow to protect their tenants from injury. These include keeping all individual apartments and common areas in and around their buildings well lit and safely maintained. In a stairwell or an elevator car, a blown-out light bulb can put an individual at risk of being injured by falling, walking into a wall or door, or becoming a victim of a criminal attack.
On a stairway, a broken step or a loose handrail can be a falling hazard to users. In an elevator, poor ventilation, faulty wiring, and a lack of access to an emergency phone inside the elevator car can all create injury hazards for riders. Elevator doors that are not equipped with sensors to avoid harming individuals walking into and out of elevator cars can also cause preventable injuries.
These requirements apply to stairways inside residential and commercial buildings as well as those outside these buildings.
Slips and Falls
Slip and fall accidents are some of the most common types of accident that can occur when a property owner fails to remove hazards from his or her property. Slips and falls can occur on stairs, but they can also occur when victims walk across slippery floors and outdoor surfaces. A few examples of conditions that can create this type of hazard include:
- Accumulated ice and snow on sidewalks and outdoor staircases;
- Wet floors from water and other types of spills;
- Debris on a walkway, such as gravel, sand, or trash;
- Wet leaves on stairways and sidewalks during the fall and winter months; and
- Uneven floors.
Like accidents on stairways and in elevators, slips and falls due to uneven and slippery surfaces are more likely in areas without adequate lighting. During the winter months, icy steps and sidewalks can be extremely difficult to see during the longer dark hours each day.
Injuries from Faulty Features and Ineffective Repairs
Property owners have the responsibility to make repairs to their properties within a reasonable timeframe after being notified of hazards. These repairs must be done correctly to avoid the hazard occurring again. In order to have a repair made, the tenant must notify his or her landlord of the problem.
Landlords also have the responsibility to provide heat and hot water to their tenants. In order to do this, apartments must be equipped with features that can deliver heat and hot water at legal temperatures. Failure to do so is an act of negligence on the part of the landlord.
There are many ways an individual can suffer an injury because of a property owner’s failure to make adequate repairs and provide working features in apartments. Examples of these include:
- Burns from excessively hot water that cannot be controlled or stabilized by a plumbing fixture;
- Lead poisoning from water containing lead particles due to moving through lead pipes;
- Illness from dirty water or from bacteria that is not killed because the water is not hot enough;
- Injuries resulting from poor visibility due to the landlord’s failure to repair a broken light fixture;
- Electrical injuries due to the landlord’s failure to repair faulty wiring and electrical objects;
- Injuries involving broken glass from windows the landlord fails to repair; and
- Illness from exposure to lead or asbestos that is not properly contained or removed.
Tenants have the right to withhold rent payments until repairs are made to their apartments. They also have the right to make the repairs themselves and subtract the cost of the parts and labor for the repairs from their rent payments. If you choose to pursue this option, discuss your choice with your landlord as well as an experienced lawyer who can help you navigate the legal aspects of this issue.
A victim would have to prove the following in order to hold the property owner responsible and have a premises liability case:
- That the property owner caused the unsafe condition and the subsequent slip and fall accident (by spilling something and not cleaning it up, by digging a hard-to-spot hole in a heavily trafficked area, etc.)
- That the property owner knew about the condition but did not try to correct it (by not posting a sign on uneven ground, etc.)
- That the property owner should have known about the danger, because a “reasonable” person would have found the problem and taken steps to prevent injuries caused by the slip and fall accident (This is the most common situation, as it is not clearly defined and is determined based on common sense).
It is important to contact a lawyer from Grant and Longworth if you have been involved in a slip and fall accident. An attorney is important in determining whether your case is within the statute of limitations for your state (for instance, action against a municipality in New York state requires a filing of notice of claim within 90 days after occurrence), and access the strength of your potential lawsuit.
Our Advice: Premise Accidents
Ten steps to take if you are injured on the premises of another or public property
- First, remain calm and if possible move away from the hazard or defect that caused your injury.
- If practical, warn others of the hazard or defect to prevent further injuries.
- Notify the owner or his/her representative that you have been injured. If you are injured on public property summon the police or official responsible for the public property (eg., injured in a park, notify the attendant).
- Do not make statements implying your actions contributed to the event.
- Note the identity of any person claiming to have witnessed the event or claiming to have previously complained about the hazard or the defect which caused your injury.
- Ensured that an incident report is prepared or that the event is properly documented by persons responsible for the property (eg., store manager, parks employee or the police).
- Make notes of the time of occurrence, a detailed description of the hazard or defect which caused the injury.
- If you have a camera available, photograph the hazard or defect which caused the injury.
- Ensure that your account or any witness(es) account are included in any incident report or police report.
- Seek immediate medical attention for your injuries. Often insurance companies will disclaim responsibility for injuries when they are not properly reported, documented or treated.