Defendant Wins in Staircase Injury Case; Plaintiff Fails to Prove Creation or Notice of Hazardous Condition

In Hoffman v. Brown, a premises liability case, the Second Department recently reversed a denial of summary judgment for defendants and dismissed plaintiff’s complaint.

Plaintiff alleged that he sustained injuries while descending an exterior staircase abutting the side of defendants’ house.  Plaintiff claimed that as he stepped on the second step from the top of the staircase, the side of the step which was further away from the house became detached from the railing. A post-accident examination of the step revealed that the two screws connecting the railing to the cleat, which supported the step, had snapped and broken.

The court summarized the applicable law as follows:

To demonstrate prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law in a premises liability case, a defendant must establish that it did not create the condition that allegedly caused the fall or have actual or constructive notice of that condition. … To provide constructive notice, a defect must be visible and apparent and it must exist for a sufficient length of time prior to the accident to permit the defendant to discover and remedy it. … Constructive notice will not be imputed where a defect is latent and would not be discoverable upon reasonable inspection.

Defendant met their burden here by establishing that they did not create or have actual or constructive notice of the alleged hazardous condition:

The condition of the screws, which were hidden from view, could not have been discerned by reasonable inspection. … The photographs of the accident site, which did not depict the broken screws, and the affidavit of the plaintiff’s expert, who never inspected the staircase, were insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact.

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