Fall-Down-Stairs Personal Injury Case Survives Summary Judgment

In Lee v. Acevedo, 2017 NY Slip Op 05586 (App. Div. 2d Dept. July 12, 2017) – a personal injury premises liability case – the Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s award of summary judgment to defendant.

Here are the facts, as summarized by the court:

[Plaintiff alleged that she was injured] after she fell backwards down a basement staircase inside the defendants’ home. The plaintiff testified at a deposition that she was standing on a landing at the top of the staircase, attempting to close a bedroom door that opened onto the landing, and that when she stepped backwards, her foot did not step on the landing, and she fell. The plaintiff further testified that as she was falling, she reached out to grab onto something to stop her fall or to change her trajectory, but there was nothing for her to grab onto. It is undisputed that the basement staircase did not have handrails on the date of the accident. [¶] The plaintiff alleged that the size and the configuration of the landing at the top of the basement staircase constituted a dangerous condition since there was insufficient room to safely close the bedroom door. The plaintiff further alleged that the defendants were negligent in failing to provide a handrail on either side of the staircase.

Under well-established law,

The owner of property has a duty to maintain his or her property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk[.] … [An] owner, however, has no duty to protect against an open and obvious condition provided that, as a matter of law, the condition is not inherently dangerous[.] … The issue of whether a dangerous condition is open and obvious is fact-specific, and usually a question for a jury.

Applying the law, the court held that the lower court erred in awarding summary judgment to defendants.

From the decision:

Here, the defendants failed to establish their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. The deposition testimony submitted by the defendants failed to eliminate all triable issues of fact as to whether the conditions alleged in the complaint were inherently dangerous, and the defendants submitted no other proof on this issue. Accordingly, the evidence submitted by the defendants did not establish, prima facie, that the allegedly dangerous conditions were open and obvious and not inherently dangerous (see Mahoney v AMC Entertainment, Inc., 103 AD3d 855, 856; Gordon v Pitney Bowes Mgt. Servs., Inc., 94 AD3d at 815; Villano v Strathmore Terrace Homeowners Assn., Inc., 76 AD3d at 1061-1062; Crafa v Marshalls of MA, Inc., 57 AD3d 937, 937). [¶] Furthermore, the defendants failed to establish, prima facie, that the allegedly dangerous conditions were not a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s accident. To the contrary, in support of their motion, the defendants submitted the plaintiff’s deposition testimony, which demonstrated that a triable issue of fact exists as to whether the absence of a handrail was a proximate cause of her injury (see Boudreau-Grillo v Ramirez, 74 AD3d 1265, 1267; Antonia v Srour, 69 AD3d 666; Christian v Railroad Deli Grocery, 57 AD3d 599, 601; Spallina v St. Camillus Church, 53 AD3d 650, 651; Asaro v Montalvo, 26 AD3d 306; cf. Plowden v Stevens Partners, LLC, 45 AD3d 659). Nor did the defendants establish, in light of the plaintiff’s testimony, that the size and configuration of the landing was not a proximate cause of the accident.

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