New York landlords have an obligation to set and maintain reasonably safe conditions at their properties. If a landlord is negligent when checking if the property is free of hazards before renting it or opening it to the public, people can get hurt. Chances are, if you are renting or visiting, you don’t have many options to fundamentally change or customize a property for safety, convenience, or even aesthetic reasons. Even condo owners don’t have complete control over the entire building property, just their own individual units.
If you suspect that a landlord has not set and maintained reasonably safe conditions, and you are injured as a direct result of that negligence, there are likely ways for you to recover compensation. However, this does not mean you may sue the landlord for any and all accidents. Navigating through this complex area of the law, and figuring out who is liable, whether you are eligible to receive damages, and the best possible action to take can be an intimidating process. In this article we will do our best to guide you through this journey, point you in the right direction, and get you the help you deserve.
Defining a Stairway and a Slip and Fall
A fixed stairway is defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as an interior or exterior mode of moving to and from levels of a building, platforms, pits, service ways to machinery, tanks, equipment, exits, and more. This mode of moving within or outside of a residential building has many regulations and codes that must be followed from building stairways to maintaining and updating them.
Generally, a slip and fall accident is when someone finds themselves in a hazardous condition, slips or trips, falls, and injures themselves. An easy way to visualize this is to imagine someone is walking and accidentally steps on a banana peel, slips, trips, and then falls. Although slip and trip are often used interchangeably, they have their own distinctions.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) outlines these distinctions as follows:
- you can slip when you lose your footing;
- you can trip when you catch your foot on or in something;
- and one or both of those can lead to a fall, which is when you come down to the floor suddenly and accidently.
Dangers of a Slip and Fall Accident Down the Stairs
Slipping and falling down stairs could result in very serious injuries. A fall down the stairs could lead to a simple strain in your:
More catastrophic risks associated with falling down the stairs are:
- Hip fractures
- Spine injury
- Neck injury
- Shoulder injury
- Broken bones
- Cuts and bruises
- Internal bleeding
- Head injuries, including traumatic brain injury
When examining these factors in relation to a slip and fall down stairs, we can see how serious it can be, and oftentimes, is.
Types of Properties in Which You Can Pursue a Slip and Fall Down Stairs Compensation
Landlords can own a wide range of property types that they may be held liable to maintain and keep safe for permitted people who will have access to the property. Some examples of these properties are:
- Residential rental/leased properties
- Commercial rental/leased properties
- Public access properties including but not limited to:
- Movie theaters
- Retail shops
In all of these places, a landlord and/or property manager may be held liable for your slip and fall down stairs injury. Don’t be discouraged if your accident did not occur on your residential property, because even in places such as public properties, a landlord may be held liable to compensate you for your losses.
Steps to Take After a Fall Down the Stairs
If you are injured after slipping and falling down a flight of stairs in New York, you need to make sure to take the right steps to ensure your own safety, uphold your rights, and help prove your case moving forward. Below are some recommended things you should do:
- Seek medical help, as your health should always be a top priority
- Report the incident
- Document all of the details (with pictures/video, in writing, etc.)
- Do not give statements to anyone, especially the landlord
- Call an attorney
Reporting the incident to a medical professional and either to your insurance, the landlord, or property manager will ensure you have something on record. It is essential that you do not give statements to anyone about the incident as you may be in shock and provide inaccurate information that may be used against you when you move onto pursuing compensation for your injuries. Contacting an expert attorney will be the best thing to do, as you will know they are on your side, will keep your statements confidential, and want to fight for the compensation you deserve.
When Is a Landlord Liable?
Generally speaking, a New York landlord may be held liable for a slip and fall down a flight of stairs on their property if they either knew of some hazard(s), or should have had reasonable knowledge of the hazard(s) existing. Liability from this may arise if injuries were reasonably foreseeable, if the landlord had an opportunity to fix them and didn’t, and usually if the injury wasn’t due to the negligence of the injured party. If a landlord is held liable for such injuries, the injured party usually has to be either a tenant or someone who has a legitimate reason to be on the property. A landlord’s duty to provide safe premises is not extended to trespassers in this state.
Some examples of landlord negligence include:
- City building code violations
- Failure to remove snow or ice (if this maintenance is landlord’s job)
- Slippery stairways (e.g., no grip on steps and landlord informed of this)
- Stairways, railings or other parts of property broken down
- Tripping hazards
- Stairway steps that are too high and have a dangerous rise
- Crumbling roof particles falling down
Examples of injured party negligence could include:
- Not tying shoelaces
- Running up or down a stairway
- Carrying an unsafe amount of items while walking up or down a stairway
- Tripping hazards that the injured party caused
Generally speaking, you should always make sure to report any hazardous conditions so that there is evidence of notice to your landlord. The reason that some form of notice is often required as proof is because a landlord or their staff may not even know of a hazard. Even if a landlord has a team that cleans every stairway in the whole building once a day, they may not learn about a new hazard that shows up somewhere on one of the stairways between the time they leave for the day and the time that they return the next morning. If there was no form of notice required, the expectation for a landlord or a maintenance team would be nearly impossible to meet.
A great example of this is in the case Pagan v. New York City Housing Authority, where a slip and fall accident allegedly occurred on a building stairwell due to some liquid in the stairwell. This particular building had a maintenance crew that came in at regularly scheduled times, and could not possibly monitor every step in the building 24 hours a day. The court ruled for the owner of the property due to the fact that the landlord had a maintenance team on a regular schedule to ensure the safety of the stairwell, and claimant nor any other tenant in the building ever gave the owner any kind of actual or constructive notice of any potential hazards during the absence of the maintenance team.
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Injured Party’s Burden of Proof to Recover Damages from a Landlord
The injured party in a slip and fall down the stairs generally carries the responsibility to prove several elements in order to recover damages from their landlord. Slip and fall lawsuits are a subsection within general negligence liability law. The following are some general things that the injured party may be required to prove:
- Landlord and/or property management owed a duty to provide a safe premises
- Landlord and/or property management breached that duty
- The breach of duty was the direct cause of the accident, and
- Injured party suffered physical and/or economical losses and other damages
For a landlord to be held liable in a slip and fall down the stairs in New York, it usually has to be stated in a lease, rental, public access, or other form of contract. Before you proceed to take any official action, you need to consult an attorney to make sure that your landlord or their assigned third party is responsible for the maintenance of the stairs where the given injury occurred.
The case of Tuli v. Shani Realty, LLC is a great example of contractual evidence as a major burden of proof on a claimant pertaining to a landlord being held responsible for repairs and maintenance of stairs. In this case, a tenant slipped and fell on a stairway, and the incident was not the liability of the landlord due to the lack of evidence that the “out-of-possession” landlord was responsible for the maintenance of the stairs. Under New York law, an “out of possession” landlord is one who transfers control of the premises to a tenant, usually along with it’s maintenance, unless the landlord is still contractually obligated to maintain the premises.
Here, it was determined that the lease actually left the responsibility of all non-structural repairs and maintenance to the tenants themselves. This was evidenced when the court took into account the testimonies of other tenants who confirmed that they maintained and made repairs to the staircase prior to the slip and fall incident of one of the tenants. This was one main factor why the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court ruled in favor of the landlord and the liability was left to the tenants.
Are Parties Other Than Your Landlord Responsible?
Sometimes landlords outsource maintenance and management responsibilities to a property management company. Some of these responsibilities include but are not limited to trash removal, snow and ice removal, landscaping work, general building maintenance, and more. These management companies and/or contractors handling the maintenance of the property does not mean the landlord is completely free from their obligations.
Liability may be extended to these third parties along with the landlord if they failed to fulfill their contractual responsibilities. A seasoned personal injury lawyer will make sure to cover all of these bases and ensure all parties responsible are brought to justice.
How Can You Recover Damages?
If you are injured as a result of a slip and fall down the stairs on someone else’s property due to their negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Unless both parties agree to a settlement right away, typically the first step injured people take is filing an insurance claim with the property owner’s insurance.
Filing an Insurance Claim
The first person or entity that will generally be held liable for your slip and fall accident down the stairs will be the person or entity that maintains the safety and repairs of the building in which the accident occurred. If this person or entity owns, rents, and/or leases the property in which the stairway is located, they should have liability insurance in place to cover accidents that occur on the premises. The first step you should take would be to see if they have this type of insurance, and if so, to file a claim with their insurance company.
Filing a claim with your landlord’s liability insurance company can be a tricky option; however, it is a good first step. When you file such a claim, you are essentially telling the insurance company that their policyholder is at fault for causing your slip and fall down the stairs. Next, the insurance company will thoroughly investigate the accident which, in this case, will usually mean investigating the safety of the stairway the accident occurred on and whether there are any hazards the landlord knew about or should have known about and didn’t fix. If the insurance company’s investigation results in your favor, it will decide how much to compensate you for their policyholder’s fault.
Although filing an insurance claim could end up being in your best interest, it doesn’t always play out that way. The investigation from the insurance company will be done by one of their own internal investigators. You can expect some bias when the investigator of your accident works for the insurance company that may be held liable to compensate you for your damages if they find the evidence in your favor. Furthermore, the insurance company will seek to settle for as low an amount as possible.
Filing a Lawsuit
If a claim is denied by an insurance company, or if the offer is too low, injured parties will turn to an attorney to help them decide if they have a viable case. A slip and fall down the stairs will fall under a civil lawsuit. If you decide to file a lawsuit against your landlord, you will be the “plaintiff”, or the person who is bringing forth an accusation against your landlord or the “defendant,” who you claim breached their legal duty and obligation to you. As the plaintiff, you can ask the court to recognize that the defendant committed a legal wrong, and you can request a specific or general solution. Most commonly in a case like this, a plaintiff will request the court to force the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for their losses.
If you decide to go the lawsuit route, your attorney will need to submit a “complaint” to the court. This complaint will outline that whoever you are suing was at fault and not in accordance with the law. Additionally, this complaint will show why and how the defendant or defendants were responsible for the slip and fall down the stairs, leading to your injury. The complaint will also have a request for remedy, usually asking the court to order the other party to compensate you for all damages and losses.
The lawsuit process can sometimes be a better option than an insurance claim in some regards, and not so much in others. A lawsuit can have a much more fair outcome than an insurance claim because your attorney, the judge, the court employees, and a jury have no personal stake in your case, and can therefore have a better chance of reaching unbiased resolutions.
A lawsuit can be very time consuming, and mentally and financially demanding. This is why you should hire a highly competent attorney to do all of the hard work for you while you recover from your injuries or carry on in your daily life.
Reaching a Settlement
A settlement is when the two parties decide to figure out a resolution privately. This usually means that the accused party agrees to compensate the injured party for their damages and losses and the claimant agrees to drop the claim in exchange.
There are several different ways a settlement may work out. It usually stems from a lawsuit or insurance claim, however it may happen completely outside of those two as well if the parties both decide to resolve the issue that way. Most cases we handle actually end in a settlement because they are efficient, and can often leave both parties satisfied or at least content that the issue has been resolved.
Time Is of the Essence
The State of New York has a “statute of limitations”, which means you have to file your lawsuit in a timely manner. Under the New York Civil Practice Laws & Rules section 214, personal injury actions must be taken within three years from the date of the incident. The time begins strictly on the date of the incident which caused the injury. This same statute of limitations applies to property damage from the slip and fall accident, such as your expensive jewelry being damaged in the incident. If the area you fell was government property or owned by a public entity (e.g. a subway station) the time limits are significantly shorter; a notice of claim generally has to be filed within 90 days of the incident.
How New York Trial Courts Usually Handle Negligence and Fault
If your slip and fault case goes to trial in New York, the state’s “pure comparative negligence rule” (sometimes referred to as the comparative fault rule) becomes the sole focus as the judge and the jury try to decide how much you can recover from the property owner if the jury finds that you were somehow negligent in connection with the incident.
Some arguments that could be raised by the landlord include but are not limited to:
- Whether you were in a restricted area without permission
- You were wearing footwear that was not suitable for the conditions
- You were not paying attention to a hazard that was reasonably obvious
- The dangerous condition was blocked off by cones, signs, or tape
- You were heavily intoxicated
- You were not moving at a safe speed (e.g., running on stairs)
The New York “pure comparative negligence rule” (outlined in Article 14-A, Section 1411) essentially makes sure that the compensation awarded, if any, is the fair amount you deserve. For example, if the judge and/or jury finds that you were at least 20% responsible for your injury, the party responsible for the majority of the incident will only have to compensate you for 80% of the damages because you share some of the responsibility. So if your compensation for damages was deemed to be worth $10,000, and your landlord was 80% responsible for the slip and fall down the stairs, they would owe you $8000.
Why You Should Hire a Skilled Attorney
In any of the options we discussed today, it is crucial to have the right legal representation. In an insurance claim, the investigator may be biased and/or seek to give you a lowball offer but an experienced personal injury attorney can negotiate on your behalf and hold them fully accountable for your injuries. Filing a lawsuit is an even more complicated process in terms of accident investigation, collecting the necessary documentation, and procedural aspects of a case. Finally, to reach a successful and just settlement, you need to have a solid claim, backed by all of the possible evidence, and supported by professional legal arguments. For these reasons, the value of hiring a highly skilled attorney is obvious.
Slip and Fall Down Stairs Statistics
Falls are one of the most common causes of injury in the United States. Stairway falls are a leading cause of accidental deaths among older adults, and represent anywhere between 7-36% of total falls, according to various studies. Muscle strains account for about one-third of stair-related fall injuries. Every year, there are about one million injuries resulting from a slip and fall down stairs. Within that total amount of injuries, about 12,000 people die each year as a result of slipping and falling down stairs. As the second leading cause of accidental injuries in the United States, it cannot be ignored, for it is far too significant.
Frequently Asked Questions
It depends. In order for a landlord to be held responsible for your injury if you slip and fall down the stairs in New York, you need to be someone who is allowed on the premises. This would include being a tenant, or someone who is legitimately supposed to be present on the property in any way, whether you are an employee, a visitor of a tenant, or an actual tenant of the building.
Premises liability law essentially considers whether a slip and fall accident down stairs was reasonably foreseeable. An accident would be reasonably foreseeable if an average person would have anticipated that an accident could occur based on the condition of the stairway. This also includes whether an owner made a reasonable effort to keep the property repaired, safe, and/or provided some form of warning if a dangerous condition was present but not yet fixed.
New York is one of the few states that allows a bystander claim in an accident such as a slip and fall down the stairs. In order for this claim to be made, the bystander must have been within some sort of dangerous zone involving the incident which made them a victim or could have made them a victim. For example, this would apply if a person who fell down the stairs landed on top of you, or if the person who fell was carrying packages and the contents spilled out and hit you. Additionally, the bystander claim can also be in effect if you were within the danger zone and were almost injured. An example of this is if someone slipped and fell down the stairs and dropped a heavy object as a result of the accident and it almost hit you.
If someone you love has lost their life due to someone else’s negligence, you may be able to recover damages to cover all expenses that stem from the incident, and to compensate those who have been affected by the death. In New York, you will have to prove that the slip and fall down stairs occurred because the landlord or management entity was careless. Additionally, you will have to prove that the deceased person would have been able to recover damages if they had survived their injuries.
We all expect that private and public building stairways will be maintained and repaired for safety any time we are entering such buildings. When something goes wrong in the maintenance and repairing of these stairs, serious (even fatal) consequences may arise. If you are to secure the compensation you justly deserve, you will need the support of the highly competent and determined legal team here at Rosenblum Law. We deploy decades of litigation experience and unrivaled legal expertise on your side to ensure you get the best possible chance to recover and move on with your life. If you or a loved one have been injured in a slip and fall down the stairs accident, don’t hesitate to take the crucial first step on the road to recovery. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 for a free consultation.