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Identifying Who Is At Fault For New York City Sidewalk Accidents

| Nov 12, 2023 | Premises Liability

Sidewalk falls are a common occurrence in New York City, and they can result in serious injuries. If you have recently been injured by falling on a sidewalk, it’s important to know your rights as an accident victim. In this blog post, we will discuss (1) whether or not you can sue for your injuries, (2) who to sue, and (3) the various deadlines and statute of limitations you must meet. As you will see, the answer is not so simple, and suing the wrong party or not within a specific time frame can be detrimental to your case.

  • Can You File a Lawsuit After A Fall On A New York City Sidewalk?

You can sue for injuries after a fall on a New York City sidewalk so long as the cause of the fall was due to an “unreasonably dangerous condition” to or on the sidewalk. Hutchinson v Sheridan Hill House Corp., 26 NY3d 66 (2015). In the typical sidewalk accident case, a person is caused to fall because the sidewalk is broken, uneven, defective, covered with snow or ice, or otherwise improperly maintained. Not all sidewalk conditions will be considered “unreasonably dangerous conditions.” Id. If the sidewalk condition that caused the fall is deemed trivial, minor, or insignificant, your case will be dismissed. Id.

Thus, it is important to identify what caused the fall and to photograph and or measure the sidewalk defect.

  • Who Is Responsible For Injuries Caused By An Unsafe Sidewalk in New York City?

The short answer to this question is it depends where the accident happened, the location of the dangerous condition on the sidewalk, and or what or who created the dangerous condition.

  • Under New York City Administrative Code § 7-210, The Property Owner Abutting The Sidewalk Is Liable For Sidewalk Accidents

Administrative Code of the City of New York § 7-210, which became effective September 14, 2003, shifted tort liability for injuries arising from a defective sidewalk from the City of New York to the abutting property owner, except for sidewalks abutting one-, two-, or three-family residential properties that are owner occupied and used exclusively for residential purposes. Gallis v. 23-21 33 Rd., LLC, 198 A.D.3d 730 (2d Dept. 2021). The City Council enacted section § 7-210 in an effort to transfer tort liability from the City to adjoining property owners as a cost-saving measure, reasoning that it was appropriate to place liability with the party whose legal obligation it is to maintain and repair sidewalks that abut them—the property owners.

In other words, under NYC Administrative Code § 7-210, a New York City property owner must maintain the sidewalk in front of its property in a reasonably safe condition. The failure to maintain a sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition includes, but is not be limited to, the negligent failure to install, construct, reconstruct, repave, repair or replace defective sidewalk flags and the negligent failure to remove snow, ice, dirt or other material from the sidewalk. Gallis v. 23-21 33 Rd., LLC, 198 A.D.3d 730 (2d Dept. 2021). This obligation or duty is non-delegable meaning the property owner remains liable, even if the property owner transfers the obligation to its tenant or enters into a maintenance agreement with a maintenance company. Xiang Fu He v Troon Mgt., Inc., 34 NY3d 167 (2019). Under NYC Administrative Code § 19-152, property owners are specifically required to, at their own cost and expense, repave or repair any portion of the sidewalk that constitutes a tripping hazard where “the vertical grade differential between adjacent sidewalk flags is greater than or equal to one half inch.” Tropper v. Henry St. Settlement, 190 A.D.3d 623 (1st Dept. 2021). Where a person is caused to trip on an uneven sidewalk condition in New York City that is equal to or greater than one half inch, the property owner will be held liable as a matter of law so long as the property owner is on actual and or constructive notice of the uneven condition prior to the accident. Id. A plaintiff’s testimony as to the dimension of the defect is sufficient prima facie evidence to establish a violation of NYC Administrative Code § 19-152. Tropper, 190 A.D.3d at 623. The property owner’s subjective opinion that a sidewalk condition is not a tripping hazard or dangerous is insufficient to avoid liability. Lopez v. 1675 Realty, 209 A.D.3d 407 (1st Dept. 2022). The statute of limitations to bring a lawsuit against a New York City property owner for its failure to maintain the sidewalk in front of its property is three years from the date of the accident.

  • The City Of New York Is Responsible For Tree Wells, Pedestrian Ramps, And The Curbs Because They Are Not Considered To Be Part Of The Sidewalk

At common law, the duty to maintain a public sidewalk rested solely with the City of New York. Gyokchyan v City of NY, 106 AD3d 780 (2d Dept 2013). New York Administrative Code § 7-210 shifted the duty to maintain “sidewalks” from the City to “owners” for personal injuries proximately caused by owners’ failure to maintain the “sidewalk” abutting their property in a reasonably safe condition. Id at 781.

While New York City landowners are responsible for maintaining sidewalk flags next to their property, a landowner is not liable for a defect to

  • (1) a pedestrian ramp leading from the street onto a sidewalk. Gary v. 101 Owners Corp., 89 A.D.3d 627 (1st Dept. 2011); Vidakovic v. City of New York, 84 A.D.3d 1357 (2d Dept. 2011); Stanziale v. City of New York, 123 A.D.3d 904 (2d Dept. 2014) (Pedestrian ramps are not part of the sidewalk for the purpose of imposing liability on abutting landowners pursuant to City Sidewalk Law);
  • (2) city owned tree wells. Vucetovic v. Epsom Downs, Inc., 10 N.Y.3d 517 (2008); or
  • (3) curbs. Metzker v City of New York, 139 A.D.3d 828 (2d Dept. 2016).

Thus, where the injury causing defect is located within a tree well, a pedestrian ramp, or on a curb, the City of New York remains the liable party for injuries to pedestrians caused by the defect, subject to the requirements of the prior written notice law. Vucetovic v. Epsom Downs, Inc., 10 N.Y.3d 517 (2008).

There are two deadlines that a pedestrian must comply with in order to sue the City of New York. First, a notice of claim must be filed against the City of New York within ninety (90) days of the accident. Second, a formal lawsuit must be filed within one-year-and-ninety days (1 year and 90 days) of the accident.

  • The Property Owner’s Tenant May Also Be Held Liable For Defective And Dangerous Sidewalk Conditions That Cause A Pedestrian To Fall

A strict and plain reading of NYC Administrative Code § 7-210 establishes that property owners, not tenants, are liable for trip and fall and slip and fall accidents that occur on New York City sidewalks. Zorin v. City of New York, 137 A.D.3d 1116, 1117 (2d Dept. 2016). Thus, a property owner’s tenant cannot be liable to a pedestrian involved in a trip and fall accident on a sidewalk under NYC Administrative Code § 7-210.

However, a tenant can be found liable under the New York common law if it can be shown (1) the tenant created the dangerous condition; (2) the tenant made special use of the sidewalk; (3) the tenant’s lease is so comprehensive and exclusive as to sidewalk maintenance so as to create a common law duty to maintain the sidewalk; or (4) the sidewalk defect impeded a safe means of ingress or egress from its place of business. Like the property owner, the statute of limitations to bring a lawsuit against a tenant abutting the sidewalk is three years from the date of the accident.

If you are involved in a trip and fall or slip and fall accident on a New York City sidewalk, it is very important that you contact an experienced New York City sidewalk accident attorney. The attorneys at MJP Injury Law can help you gather evidence to support your claim, as well as assist you with all other steps involved in filing a lawsuit. Don’t wait to take the first step toward possible compensation. Call us at MJP Injury Law today for a free consultation.