As outlined below, the property owner’s legal duty, and the property owner’s knowledge of the hazardous situation, are the two basic elements in a New York slip-and-fall negligence case.
Nationally, about eight million people a year are treated in hospital emergency rooms after a serious fall, which is normally either a slip-and-fall or a fall from a height. Aside from serious injury, many of these victims must deal with other consequences as well. For example, about half of victims over 65 cannot live independently after a serious fall.
To classify victims, and therefore establish the applicable duty of care, New York courts essentially use a common law categorization system that divides people according to their purpose for being on the land. The more their presence serves the landowner’s interests, the higher the duty of care.
Many slip-and-fall accidents in New York occur in public places, like office buildings, restaurants, retail stores, and so on. These victims are invitees, because they received an express or implied invitation and their presence conveys a tangible benefit on the owner. Shoppers, hotel guests, and other people who are an economic benefit to the owner are invitees; the business invitee category also includes window shoppers, job applicants, and other relationships that do not necessarily involve money changing hands.
A landowner’s social guests are also invitees, because the landowner benefits from the social interaction these guests provide.
Landowners owe invitees a duty of care to ensure that the property is safe. Furthermore, landowners must inspect their property and ensure that there are no hazardous conditions thereon, such as a wet spot on the floor or a loose floorboard.
There are two other categories, which are licensee (permission but no benefit) and trespassers (no permission and no benefit). A guest of a hotel guest is an example of a licensee, while a burglar is a trespasser. At most, owners owe only limited duties in these situations.
Knowledge of Defect
To obtain damages, victim/plaintiffs must prove that the owners breached the duty of care, and that means there must be evidence of actual or constructive knowledge.
Direct evidence, like a building inspector’s report concerning a faulty elevator, is available in many cases. But in many other cases, victim/plaintiffs must rely on circumstantial evidence of constructive knowledge (should have known). Anjou v. Boston Elevated Railway Company, a 1911 decision sometimes known as the banana peel case, establishes the rule in constructive knowledge inquiries.
Ms. Anjou slipped and fell on a banana peel in a bustling transit terminal, and she filed a claim for damages against the train station owner. Although the landowner denied any knowledge of the peel, the court took note of the fact that witnesses said the peel was black, gritty, and dirty, as if it had been trampled over. The court concluded that since the peel had been on the floor for a long time, constructive knowledge attached because the property owner should have inspected the floor and found the offending peel. If, on the other hand, the peel was fresh and yellow, constructive knowledge would not attach.
So, if a security light had been burned out for several days and the victim slips in the parking lot, the owner probably had constructive knowledge and is therefore liable for damages. These damages include compensation for monetary losses, such as medical bills, and nonmonetary losses, such as emotional distress.