Plaintiffs in Slip and Fall Cases Have A Duty to Prove Defendant Had Notice of Hazard

This guest post was contributed by David Resnick & Associates, PC

A slip-and-fall case arises when a plaintiff is injured after slipping and falling due to another’s negligence.  For example, a wet floor, tattered carpeting, or icy sidewalks all present hazards that may result in a slip-and-fall claim should someone slip, fall, and sustain an injury.  Such accidents can occur anywhere and often occur in public places such as shopping malls or stores. Injuries sustained from slip-and-fall accidents range from minor to serious, and are often back or neck injuries.  In order to prevail in a slip-and-fall case, courts require that plaintiffs show that the defendant had a legal duty to maintain the property so that no one is harmed, the defendant had notice of the hazard, the hazard was dangerous, and the plaintiff was harmed as a result of the hazard.  Two recent New York cases demonstrate how New York courts consistently apply these requirements in determining whether a slip-and-fall case survives a summary judgment motion.

To prevail in a slip-and-fall case, among other things, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had a duty to properly maintain the property and negligently failed to do so.  In addition, the defendant must have had knowledge of the hazard that resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries.  In Barbara Sawicki v. GameStop Corp., 2013, the plaintiff slipped and fell on a wet floor mat in a GameStop store that was located inside the Sunrise Mall in Massapequa, New York.  The day that Sawicki fell, water had flooded portions of the Sunrise Mall due to rain.  It was unclear as to whether water that had flooded the mall had entered GameStop.  Sunrise Mall owner, Westfield Corporation, moved for summary judgment claiming among other things that the flood was caused by an act of God.  The trial court sided with the plaintiff, denying Westfield’s motion.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of New York upheld the lower court’s decision.  After noting that Westfield had an obligation to maintain common areas in the mall, the Supreme Court determined that Westfield negligently failed keep the premises hazard-free and that the flooding in the mall was not solely caused by an act of God.  Furthermore, the Supreme Court found that the defendant failed to show that it did not have notice of the hazard.  Thus, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the case.

In another slip-and-fall case where the injury also occurred at a store in the Sunrise Mall in Massapequa, the court used similar reasoning to find in favor of the defendant.  In Cheryl A. Warren v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2013, in 2008 the plaintiff slipped and fell on a bleach spill in Wal-Mart.  The plaintiff sued Wal-Mart to recover damages stemming from her injuries.  Wal-Mart moved for summary judgment dismissing the plaintiff’s case.  The lower court denied Wal-Mart’s motion.  On appeal the Supreme Court of New York reversed the lower court, finding in favor of Wal-Mart.  As in Sawicki, the court considered whether the defendant Wal-Mart caused the hazard and had notice of it.  Based on evidence from surveillance tapes and an affidavit from a Wal-Mart employee, the Supreme Court found that neither element of a prima facie case existed.   Wal-Mart did not cause the hazard and did not have actual or constructive notice of its existence.  Thus, summary judgment should have been granted dismissing the plaintiff’s case against Wal-Mart.

If you were injured after falling in a shopping mall or other business establishment, it is important to contact an attorney experienced with not only personal injury cases, but specifically with premises liability cases.  Premises liability cases can be complicated and often involve the assembling and review of critical evidence surrounding the incident.  Having representation experienced in handling such cases will afford you the best chance of attaining a positive result.

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