Common Misconceptions about New York Personal Injury Cases, Part III: “I Slipped (or Tripped) and Fell in the (Parking Lot, Store Aisle . . . Wherever) and Was Injured, So I Must Have a Good Case Against the Owner of (the Parking Lot, Store, etc.).”

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for banana peel.jpgLet’s clear this up from the get-go: The owner of the property where you slipped or tripped and fell is NOT AUTOMATICALLY liable for your fall and resulting injuries. As the plaintiff in a New York premises liability lawsuit, you have the burden of proving that the owner of the property maintained the property in an UNREASONABLY UNSAFE CONDITION.

Ok, what does THAT mean? Several things: First, you have to show that the owner could have done something to avoid your getting injured on his property. And the owner had to have time to do it. Let’s take a supermarket, for example. Sure, the supermarket makes a lot of money. But it is not God. It cannot predict that another shopper is going to drop a jar of apple sauce in the “fruits and vegetable” aisle 2 minutes before you happen to stroll down looking for a can of kidney beans. So when you slip and fall on the apple sauce, no jury on God’s earth is going to hold the supermarket liable. In fact, they might find it is your entire fault for not watching where you are going.

On the other hand, if you can somehow prove that the smashed apple-sauce jar was lying there for an hour, a jury is likely to be on your side. With all that money the supermarket is making, it sure ought to have a few employees meandering up and down those aisles every half-an-hour or so looking for customer spills.

Same goes for parking lots. If a sudden freeze in temperatures causes black ice to form, how can you expect them to have time to (1) notice the slippery condition and (2) salt the parking lot? That takes some time, doesn’t it? That’s why, if the ice was very recently formed, you don’t. have a prayerr at trial. On the other hand, if the black ice was there for an hour or so during business hours, you’ve got a chance at trial. Why didn’t they get out there and salt during that hour?! It’s really that simple.

One more thing: If the owner (or its employees) actually CREATED the hazard you tripped or slipped on, you will have an easier time in court. That’s because if they created the danger they obviously don’t need time to notice it. They should have noticed it as soon as they created it! Supermarket example: If they mopped the floors with dirty, greasy water, leaving a film of grease on the floor that caused you to slip and fall, the supermarket is liable. It was negligence from the get-go. They should have used clean, soapy water, and since they created the hazard, they should have noticed it right away.

Bottom line: You don’t necessarily have a good slip-and-fall case or trip-and-fall case just because you slipped or tripped and fell on somebody’s property. You still have to show the property owner was somehow negligent.

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