Public transportation is integral to daily life in New York, particularly in the city. For residents, it is a welcome convenience. But for the government, it is a logistical nightmare. New York City’s subway system alone has 472 stations, its routes spanning 248 miles.
As with any property, this vast real estate is susceptible to natural wear and tear and inclement weather. Try as they might to remedy dangerous conditions and prevent accidents, with the sheer size of New York’s public transportation network, station operators are constantly playing catch up. The result is slip and fall accidents, which can lead to hefty medical bills, time off work, and most unfortunately, life-changing injuries. Thankfully, the law provides a remedy. With the guidance of an experienced personal injury attorney, victims can hold public entities accountable through a personal injury lawsuit.
What Is a Slip and Fall Accident?
The term “slip and fall accident” refers broadly to accidents where a dangerous condition causes someone to slip or trip, which in turn causes them to fall. In this article, we are concerned with slip and fall accidents occurring on public transportation or its property. This category includes two scenarios: falls at public transportation facilities, such as train stations, and falls on public transportation vehicles themselves.
How Dangerous Are Slip and Fall Accidents on Public Transportation?
Slip and fall accidents on public transportation are quite dangerous as a result of at least three factors. First, they can happen in many ways. To name just a few:
- Slipping on a wet train platform
- Slipping on icy stairs
- Slipping/tripping in a sandy parking lot
- Falling while on a public transportation vehicle itself
Second, public transportation is inherently dangerous. Travelling by public transportation involves rushing through overcrowded stations. These conditions make us careless and, consequently, more susceptible to accidents caused by dangerous conditions.
Third, slip and fall accidents can lead to serious injuries. When you slip and fall in public, two things are usually true. One, you are caught by surprise. And two, you are falling on hard ground. Falling on hard ground without sufficient warning to brace yourself can result in serious injuries:
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Spinal Cord Injury
- Back Injury
- Shoulder or Neck Injury
- Broken Bones/Fractures
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Getting Compensated for Your Injuries: Personal Injury Lawsuit
In the United States, the civil legal system is designed to broker remedies to disputes. A lawsuit in civil court provides a way to make the victim of a wrongdoer’s harmful acts whole again by having a judge order the wrongdoer to pay the victim. So, when you are injured by another’s legally recognized wrongdoing, you can recover compensation by filing a “personal injury lawsuit” in civil court.
When you file a personal injury lawsuit, you accuse another person or entity of being at fault for causing your accident, and you ask the court to order whomever you are accusing to compensate you for your losses. Both you and whomever you accuse then have the opportunity to argue your respective cases before a judge and possibly a jury. In the end, the judge or jury decides whether to hold the accused party liable and, if they are liable, how much they must pay you.
Theory of Liability: Negligence
To successfully bring a lawsuit in civil court, you must have a legally valid reason as to why whomever you are suing is liable. For a personal injury lawsuit after a slip and fall accident, that theory will most likely be grounded in “negligence.” More specifically, you will claim that whomever you are suing is liable because their negligence caused your injuries.
What is negligence? In everyday terms, someone is liable for negligence when they are careless when the law expects them to be careful, and this carelessness causes another person to be injured.
The basic idea is that the law expects us all to be reasonably careful in our actions to prevent accidents. To enforce this expectation, the law holds that when someone is unreasonably careless and their carelessness causes another to be injured, the careless party can be held liable, meaning they can be forced to compensate the injured party. These ideas are usually expressed in more formal legal terms. Most important are the four elements that must be established before someone may be held liable for negligence:
- Duty of care: That the law expected someone to act in a certain way.
- Breach: That someone failed to act consistent with what the law expected.
- Injury: That another suffered harm that can be compensated.
- Causation: That the injured party’s injuries were caused by the breach.
To clarify, let’s take a simple example. Suppose a motorist named Dave drives drunk and crashes into another motorist named Lisa, who fractures her spine as a result. Lisa files a personal injury lawsuit against Dave in civil court. Is Dave liable for negligence? Yes; all four elements of negligence are satisfied. First, Dave owed Lisa a duty of care: the duty to drive carefully. It is well established that motorists owe to other motorists on the road a duty to be reasonably careful while operating a motor vehicle. At the bare minimum, this involves things like following traffic laws. Second, Dave breached this duty of care when he drove drunk, which is in violation of a traffic law and therefore constitutes not driving with reasonable care. Put another way, Dave failed to drive carefully when the law expected him to have driven carefully. Third, Lisa was clearly injured; she suffered a fractured spine, which invariably resulted in medical bills, time off work, and pain and suffering. Finally, Dave’s negligence caused Lisa’s injuries insofar as his drunk driving caused the crash, which in turn caused her injuries.
If this seems like a lot to take in, that’s okay. This area of the law is complicated, and our goal is not to make you experts in negligence law. All you need to understand is that if someone else’s carelessness caused your slip and fall accident, you will have a claim as long as they failed to act consistent with the law’s expectations.
Who Can Be Held Liable, and When Are They Considered At-fault?
So far, we have explained that after a slip and fall injury on public transportation, you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries by filing a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. We also outlined your legal argument as to why whoever you are suing is liable for your injuries. But two crucial questions remain:
- Who can be held liable?
- When is one considered at-fault for slip and fall accidents on public transportation?
To answer these important questions, we first need to understand “premises liability.”
Slip and fall accidents on public transportation most commonly occur at a public transportation facility rather than on a public transportation vehicle. Facilities such as train and bus stations are full of hazardous conditions capable of causing serious accidents. Liability for injuries sustained in an accident at a public transportation facility turns on the concept of premises liability. Premises liability is a specific application of negligence law. It involves the duty of care those responsible for a property owe to those who lawfully enter the property. Those responsible for a property have a duty to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition. When they fail to maintain the safety of their property, they can be held liable for resulting injuries.
Who Is Liable?
Premises liability is all about the duty those responsible for a given property owe to those who lawfully enter the property. So, naturally, the person or entity who can be held liable for a slip and fall accident at a public transportation facility will be whomever is responsible for the safety of the public transportation facility in question.
The trouble is that many different parties can be “responsible” for a given property, including those who own it, those who operate it, and those who maintain it. In the context of injuries sustained at a public transportation facility, these different parties will include mostly various public entities and possibly a third-party contractor responsible for maintenance.
An example of this is the real-life case, Garretson v. Town of Islip. Mrs. Garretson filed a personal injury lawsuit after she fractured her ankle slipping and falling on snow and ice that had accumulated on a walkway between a commuter parking lot and the Central Islip Long Island Railroad train station. Garretson’s attorney identified and sued three parties as potentially being responsible: Town of Islip, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and Long Island Railroad Company (LIRR). Another candidate, who wasn’t sued, was the County of Suffolk.
The court had to decide which of these parties, if any, were responsible for maintaining the safety of the walkway where Garretson fell. They ultimately decided on the Town of Islip. They pointed out that though the County of Suffolk owned the parking lot connected to the walkway where Garretson fell, the Town of Islip had taken responsibility for snow plowing there. And the MTA and LIRR could not be responsible because neither owed a duty of care relating to the walkway and parking lot in question; they didn’t own, operate, nor maintain that commuter parking lot.
The key takeaway is that figuring out who can be held responsible for your accident will likely require some snooping by your attorney. The key question will be who owed a duty of care to maintain the property where the injury occurred.
When Is One Considered At-fault?
Once we know who can be held liable, we must ask whether they are actually at-fault in the eyes of the law. The simple answer is that one is at-fault for your accident at a public transportation facility when their negligence caused your accident. However, since premises liability is in effect, the rule is slightly more specific:
This is a lot to digest. Let’s break it down into its key components:
1. Dangerous condition causing injury to another
There must be a dangerous condition that caused your injuries, such as a wet train platform or an icy staircase. A condition is considered to have “caused” one’s injuries when it was a substantial factor in bringing one’s injuries about.
The person or entity responsible for the premises must have had notice that the condition existed within enough time before your accident such that they could have done something about it. The idea is that someone can’t have been careless in maintaining the safety of their property if there was no way realistically for them to know of the dangerous condition. There are three ways one can be considered to have had notice of a dangerous condition:
- If they created the dangerous condition
- If they were notified of the dangerous condition
- If they should have known of the condition because it was obvious and existed for a long enough period of time
3. Failure to remedy
It must be true that whoever was responsible for the property failed to take reasonable steps within a reasonable time after learning of the condition to address it.
An Important Exception: The Storm in Progress Doctrine
Many slip and fall accidents occurring on public transportation occur because of bad weather. Winter storms pose a unique problem for those responsible for a property. On the one hand, storms create hazardous conditions capable of causing serious accidents, and these conditions should be addressed. On the other hand, it can be difficult to remedy these hazards when one can’t reliably predict when a storm will end. Would you shovel your driveway as snow continued to fall, or if you suspected it might snow into the following day? Perhaps. In some circumstances it might make sense to do so. But now imagine your home was a large facility with multiple driveways. In that case, it probably doesn’t make sense. Your efforts would almost always be futile and inefficient.
This is the problem public entities and many commercial property owners face during winter storms. The law’s solution is the storm in progress doctrine. It essentially holds that those responsible for a property are not required to clear up during an ongoing storm, nor during a break or lull in a storm, nor for a reasonable time following a storm.
The storm in progress doctrine helped the New York City Transit Authority escape liability in the case Rijper v. City of New York. Mrs. Rijpers filed a personal injury lawsuit after she slipped and fell on wet stairs at a New York City subway station. The court ultimately dismissed her lawsuit because weather records showed it was raining at the time of, and for hours before, Rijper’s accident. According to the court, the New York City Transit Authority was under no duty to address dangerous conditions resulting from the rain while it was still raining, nor for a reasonable time after it stopped.
For your case, the storm in progress doctrine means that if your accident was caused by weather-related conditions, your attorney may need to account for things such as the timing of your accident to ensure whomever you are suing indeed had a duty to address those conditions.
Suing a Public Entity
Slip and fall accidents on public transportation predictably call for personal injury lawsuits filed against public entities.
The law recognizes that public entities are special when it comes to lawsuits. This is because with their many responsibilities, public entities are subject to many lawsuits; it’s simple probability. If you are personally responsible for a theme park that has dangerous rides, sells alcohol, and gives tattoos, you will be subject to many lawsuits given the many opportunities for liability. The same goes for the government. In short, if public entities lived by the same rules as the rest of us, they would spend most of their time either fighting or avoiding lawsuits. The law’s solution is to make it harder to sue public entities.
One way is by instituting strict filing requirements. You must first serve the relevant public entity with a “notice of claim” within 90 days of your accident. This notice lets the public entity know that you plan to sue them. Then, you must wait 30 days from when you serve the notice of claim before you can file your lawsuit. The 30 days gives the public entity the opportunity to do a preliminary investigation of your claim. Finally, you have one year and 90 days from the date of your accident to file your lawsuit. These requirements help public entities weed out weak claims and careless litigants.
A second tool is the “written notice requirement.” Various municipalities, including the City of New York, have enacted laws providing that the municipality is not liable for accidents resulting from dangerous conditions on public streets unless the municipality
- received written notice of the condition at least 15 days before the accident, or
- acknowledged the condition in writing at least 15 days before the accident.
There are two exceptions to this requirement:
- where the municipality created the dangerous condition, and
- where a ‘special use’ confers a special benefit upon the municipality
What this means for you is that when you are suing a municipality, your claim may not succeed if the municipality did not have adequate written notice of the dangerous condition that caused your accident. To better understand how the written notice requirement can affect one’s claim, consider the case Christiansen v. Long Island Railroad.
Mrs. Christiansen slipped and fell in the parking lot of a Long Island Railroad station in the Town of Smithtown. She claimed the floor was slippery because of loose debris and sand left by ongoing construction. Christiansen sued both the Long Island Railroad and the Town of Smithtown.
Both were found not liable. The Long Island Railroad was found not liable because it was established that they had no control over, nor responsibility for, the parking lot where Christiansen fell. Smithtown was found not liable because of a written notice requirement. The Code of the Town of Smithtown provided that absent 15 days written notice of a dangerous condition on a road, highway, etc., the Town could not be liable for accidents resulting from that dangerous condition.
It turned out Smithtown had not received written notice of the loose debris and sand in the parking lot where Christiansen fell. Smithtown was also able to prove that neither of the exceptions to the written notice requirement applied. They did not create the condition, as they were not managing the construction in the lot, and they were not responsible in any way for the clean up while that construction work was performed. On these bases, the court dismissed Christiansen’s claim.
Accounting for the Victim’s Fault: Comparative Negligence
A discussion about personal injury lawsuits would be incomplete without addressing how the law takes into account the injured party’s fault. Any given accident can be caused by many parties’ carelessness, the victim included. For example, you might slip and fall on an icy patch on a train platform while simultaneously walking and texting on a cell phone. The train station operator might be negligent for failing to remove or warn of the ice. But your carelessness, being distracted by your phone, might also have contributed to causing the accident.
Recognizing that fault is not absolute, the law provides a solution known as comparative negligence, or comparative fault. This permits courts to consider both parties’ respective roles in causing an accident and adjust the damages accordingly. In practice, the court first assigns a percentage of fault to each party. So, you might be considered 20% to blame, and the train station operator might be 80% to blame. The damages are then adjusted proportionally. So, your damages would be reduced by 20%, the percentage of blame you carry.
The name of the game in a personal injury lawsuit is to prove that whomever you are suing is at fault for causing your accident. To do this in a court of law, you need to prove the necessary elements of whatever cause of action you are bringing. For a slip and fall accident on public transportation, you are likely bringing a negligence action, specifically a premises liability action. The elements you must prove, then, are as follows:
- There was a dangerous condition that caused your injuries.
- The person or entity you are suing had notice of the condition.
- The person or entity you are suing did not take reasonable steps to address the condition.
- You sustained damages that can be compensated.
Proving these elements first requires a thorough investigation by your legal team. We consult diverse sources, including:
- Deposition testimony: A deposition is recorded, out-of-court testimony by witnesses and the parties themselves. Deposition testimony can reveal crucial facts. For example, a train station employee might reveal that they were notified of a leaky ceiling, establishing that the station operator had notice of a dangerous condition.
- Maintenance Records: These records can also reveal when a facility had notice of a dangerous condition or when they failed to address a dangerous condition.
- Miscellaneous Records: Legal documents such as contracts can establish who was responsible for addressing the dangerous condition in question. For example, a contract between the public entity responsible for a bus station and a third-party contractor might reveal the contractor is responsible for snow and ice removal.
- Video Surveillance Footage: Videos can help to prove things like precisely what caused the injured party’s accident.
- Expert Witnesses: Experts prove especially useful where there exist significant gray areas. For example, a train station operator might dispute that a condition was dangerous to begin with or that their efforts to address the condition were unreasonable. An expert might help to guide the court’s discretion in these matters.
Once you have gathered convincing evidence, if your case goes to trial, your attorney will need to persuade the court by showing how the evidence proves each of the elements of your claim.
So far, we have discussed lawsuits as if they exclusively end with a judgment after a trial. But this is far from the truth. The overwhelming odds are that your claim will end in a settlement. It is estimated that a staggering 95% of lawsuits in the United States do not go to trial but end in what is known as a pre-trial settlement. This is when the parties to a dispute decide to resolve their case by agreement. The typical arrangement is that the accused party agrees to compensate the injured party, and in exchange, the injured party agrees to drop the lawsuit.
Following a lawsuit to its conclusion is time-consuming, expensive, and risky, as the court could conceivably rule either way. Accused parties often agree to settle when they realize the injured party’s claim is strong. Why fight a lawsuit that is bound to end in a loss when you can pay far less by paying the other party to begin with? Injured parties gain similar benefits, avoiding the costs of litigation and eliminating the possibility of losing and walking away with nothing. If you have a strong claim, there is a strong possibility that, with your consent, your attorney can negotiate a lucrative settlement agreement that resolves your claim without ever having to go to trial.
You will absolutely need an attorney to successfully recover compensation for a slip and fall accident on public transportation. As we hope this article has communicated, civil lawsuits involving public entities are complicated at every turn. It’s important to appreciate that lawsuits are difficult to begin with, and everything must be done accurately and within specific timeframes.
Public Transportation Slip and Fall Accident Statistics
Public transportation slip and fall accidents are dangerous and occur with a startling frequency. For example, the New York Post reported that in 2019 that 160 slip and fall accidents occurred when riders were boarding or exiting a bus. This specific type of accident, slipping and falling when boarding or exiting a bus, is a narrow circumstance. Other types of public transportation slip and fall accidents, such as those at public transportation facilities, happen far more often.
The fact that a narrow circumstance happened as often as 160 times in a single year suggests more common types of public transportation slip and fall accidents also happen frequently. The Centers For Disease Control offers two more useful figures. The first is that annually, the United States sees about one million injuries resulting from falls on ice and snow, 17,000 of which are fatal. This is significant, as public transportation slip and fall accidents are commonly caused by dangerous conditions brought about by inclement weather. The second defines the dangers more broadly: more than 800,000 patients in the United States are hospitalized because of a fall injury annually. These figures support the notion that public transportation slip and fall accidents are dangerous and capable of great harm.
Frequently Asked Questions
Your first priority should be ensuring your physical well-being. It is recommended to see a doctor after a fall, especially when you fall on hard ground. This is because serious injuries don’t always have noticeable symptoms right away, and if you are injured, not being treated promptly can be harmful. If safe, it is also advisable to gather evidence at the scene of the accident. Something as simple as a picture of the hazardous condition that caused your accident can be a great help to your case. Finally, you should contact an attorney as soon as you can. When public entities are involved, things need to be set in motion soon after your accident.
You may recover both monetary and non-monetary compensation. Monetary compensation includes things like lost wages and medical expenses. Non-monetary compensation includes things like compensation for pain and suffering.
When you slip and fall on a public transportation vehicle, your lawsuit will most likely be based in negligence. You will sue the person or entity whose carelessness caused your accident. This could be the bus driver, the bus company, or even the bus manufacturer. You will need to prove that whoever you sue failed to act in a way that the law expected them to, and this failure caused your injuries.
For a personal injury lawsuit, you typically have three years from the date of the accident to initiate your lawsuit. When you are suing a public entity, the rules are slightly different. You must serve the relevant public entity with a “notice of claim” within 90 days after your accident and file your lawsuit within one year and 90 days after your accident.
Yes. Different states follow different variations of the comparative fault rule. New York observes a pure comparative fault model. This means that you can recover compensation as long as you are less than 100% to blame for the accident and have sustained damages that can be compensated.
Attorneys usually negotiate a slip and fall settlement with two factors in mind: what the court would likely order if it resolved the case and what the parties want. Accused parties settle personal injury cases when they believe the claimant will likely win if the case goes to trial. To get the claimant to settle, the settlement amount needs to make financial sense. And to make financial sense, the claimant needs to be assured that they won’t be receiving far less than what they could recover by taking the case to trial. That being said, one of the benefits of settling is that the parties can step outside of the court’s framework if they desire. So, attorneys will also account for what their respective clients want independent of what a court might be likely to order after a trial.
Many resources will mistakenly say that you will be suing the MTA for your slip and fall accident on public transportation. You can sue the MTA, but they probably won’t be liable. It is well settled that the MTA doesn’t operate, maintain, nor control public transportation facilities; they are simply responsible for financing and planning. This is relevant because lawsuits for falls resulting from dangerous conditions at a public transportation facility need to be brought against whoever is responsible for maintaining the facility, not the person or entity doing only the financing and planning. The relevant public entity you need to sue will probably be a subsidiary of the MTA, such as the New York City Transit Authority.
Instead of a personal injury lawsuit, your loved one’s estate should be filing a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death lawsuit will likely accuse the relevant public entity of being liable because their negligence caused the deceased person’s death. The underlying legal rules of a wrongful death action are similar to those of a personal injury lawsuit, with some significant exceptions. For example, not all family members are eligible to recover compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit. Only certain family members are eligible, and even then, there is a hierarchy governing who will actually receive a share of the money if the lawsuit is successful. Wrongful death lawsuits are tricky and strict time limits still apply where a public entity is involved, so you should contact an attorney promptly to discuss your case.
Who Should You Contact?
If you hope to recover compensation after a public transportation slip and fall accident, look no further than Rosenblum Law. Our dedicated attorneys have decades of experience successfully advocating for slip and fall victims, earning us our designation as a premier personal injury firm. Suing a public entity is never straightforward, but with the help of a knowledgeable and practiced attorney, you can rest easy knowing your claim is in capable hands. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 for a free consultation.
- How Lawsuits Work
- How Courts Work
- More on Negligence
- What is Premises Liability?
- Suing the Government
- Filing a Notice of Claim
- Why You Should See a Doctor After a Fall