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Articles Posted in Premises Liability

The City this Central New York personal injury lawyer calls home, Geneva, New York, recently amended its sidewalk law.  Many local homeowners are concerned about the effect this might have on their “liability” for snow and ice on sidewalks. Before the amendment, the City Code had said, and continues to say, that homeowners (and business owns) “shall at all times keep the sidewalk (abutting their property) free from ice, snow, grass, weeds, rubbish and other obstructions; and shall at all times keep said sidewalk in a good state of repair . . .”.  (Geneva City Code section 306-7).  The Code further said, “If any person shall neglect or refuse to comply with the requirements of this section as to snow, ice or other obstructions, or sidewalks out of repairs, the Director of Public Works may cause all necessary work to be done at the expense of the person so in default” (id.)  The amended law now states that, for snow and ice, the abutting property owner has only 24 hours from the cessation of snowfall to clean it up.

Bottom line, the City has upped the ante so that now, if you don’t remove the snow and ice within 24 hours, the City will do it and charge you for it.

The question for today’s blog post is, given the mandates of this City Code, can a passerby who slips on snow or ice or trips on a defect on the sidewalk abutting my property sue me for failing to remove snow or ice or otherwise failing to maintain the sidewalk abutting my property so that it is safe?

In this Syracuse NY Injury lawyer’s last blog post, I talked about how, in most cases, a New York personal injury victim will end up with a much larger settlement with a lawyer than without one.  The problem with “going it alone” is that insurance companies will generally low ball” you an offer, hoping you will take it, sign a release, and go away (forever).

But my clients aren’t the only ones who get low balled.  Sometimes insurance company adjusters will “low ball” me an offer, hoping I will want to make a quick buck and move onto the next case.  But at my law firm, we don’t take low ball offers (except in the rare case where our clients won’t listen to our advice and take the low offer).  Although some New York personal injury lawyers regularly traffic in low ball settlements, I am proud to say ours does not.

In my opinion, those that do are typically large law  firms who advertise heavily and need to “churn” their cases to keep the money rolling in to pay their advertising bills.  At my law firm, where the bulk of our cases come by referral from other lawyers, we would rather handle fewer cases and MAXIMIZE the amount we can get for those few but dear clients.  We make our money by working up a few cases rather than knocking off quick settlements on a swarm of cases.

Photo above:  A New York sidewalk defect, suitably marked with orange cones.

I love traveling and have done a lot of it, including in Mexico and Central America.  Right now I am in Costa Rica.  Love it here!  The people are super friendly, the climate is awesome, the food great.  The countryside is spectacular – active volcanoes, dense pristine jungles, and sandy beaches both on the Atlantic and Pacific costs. What’s not to like?

So far I can think of only one thing:  Their tort law.  Though I have not read their laws, I have to assume – from what I have seen – that someone injured through the negligence of others does not have much of a remedy in Court.  Take a look at this video I shot today before you read any further:

banana peelMy mom is turning 89 in about a month.  Her short-term memory is tarnished, but otherwise she is doing just fine.

I worry about her, though.  One thing I worry about, especially with the winter months now approaching, is her falling.  As a personal injury lawyer, I see a lot of slip-and-falls, trip-and-falls, and all other kinds of falls!  So I know first hand the kind of serious harm a fall can cause.

So far mom has avoided any falls at all in her senior years.  Will her luck continue?

dead treeI am representing – not for the first time – a personal injury plaintiff who was struck and injured by a falling tree. Very strong case.  But when I tell non-lawyers I am representing a falling-tree victim, they blurt out something like this:

“Wow, a tree falls and you can sue? That’s what’s wrong with our system. A tree falling is God’s fault. Who the hell are you going to sue? God?”

And if they really want an explanation (and are not just venting against our tort system), I respond something like this:

gorge in ithaca.jpgI came across an article recently in the New York Law Journal titled “Drunken Run Could Leave Cornell Liable for Fatal Fall”. It’s about a case judge Ramsey (Ithaca, Tompkins County) recently decided where a drunken, and possibly stoned, Cornell University student suddenly bolted from the friends he was walking with on campus, ran down a marked hiking trail, departed from the trail, ran through the woods, hurdled a split-rail fence, and plunged to his death into the 200-foot gorge below. (The trail is appropriately named “Fall Creek Gorge trail”.)

Cornell moved for summary judgment (to have the case dismissed) based in part on New York’s General Obligations Law §9-103, which says landowners who allow the public to use their property for recreational purposes without charge are generally immune from liability. This law was enacted years ago to encourage landowners to open their fields and woods to hikers, bikers, hunters and others.

Judge Ramsey denied the motion and allowed the case to go to trial. The Judge reasoned that General Obligations Law § 9-103 grants immunity only for recreational activities, such as hiking, and here the kid was not “hiking”. The judge relied on a definition of “hiking” in the Department of Environmental Conservation’s regulations, which says hiking is “walking through trees for pleasure or exercise”. Here the kid was not “walking for pleasure”, the judge said, but rather running wildly through the woods in the middle of the night for unknown reasons.

beam me up.jpgNext Tuesday I’ll be jumping on a plane to Central America. But I won’t be on vacation. I’ll be representing my Guatemalan clients as they get deposed, remotely, by video, from Syracuse, NY. There’ll be an interpreter with us.

How did I end up in Guatemala on a case? That story made the front page of the New York Law Journal and the Syracuse Post Standard. I blogged about that here.

Technology has changed every aspect of law practice. A few decades ago, what is about to transpire would have been impossible. Your Central NY injury lawyer will be sitting next to his clients in Guatemala City while insurance defense lawyers in Syracuse New York ask them questions by video. We will see those lawyers on the screen, and they will see my clients. They will be face to face. It’s kind of like Star Trek. “Beam me up, Scotty”! The video of my clients will later be presented to the jury.

small.jpgSometimes when I read newspaper accounts of other personal injury lawyers’ cases I wonder why those lawyers bothered to take them. While I wouldn’t call them frivolous, they just don’t make economic sense. How can you make a living taking those kinds of cases?

Case on point. Disney World’s “It’s a Small World” ride gets stuck. While most riders are evacuated right away, a paraplegic (from a prior injury), who is difficult to remove, is left on the ride for 30 minutes while “It’s a Small World” blares over and over again.

He sues Disney in Federal Court, claiming they should have called firefighters to evacuate him along with the others. He claims his high blood pressure and tendency toward panic attacks were aggravated as he sat in the boat listening over and over again to “It’s a Small World”. How much money would you give him? What’s his case worth?

defibrilator.jpgLast year I blogged about a case (Miglino v. Bally Total Fitness) where one of New York’s intermediate appellate courts (the Second Department) held that health and fitness clubs in New York State must actually use automated external defibrillators (AEDs) when necessary, and not just have them available. If not, they can be held liable to the unattended victim.

In that case, the Court was interpreting a 2005 Statute, General Business Law 627-a, whose literal reading required only that AED’s be “on-site” at New York health clubs, and did not specifically mandate that Club employees use them. Nevertheless, the intermediate appellate Court read between the lines, holding that it was “illogical to conclude that no such duty exists”.

Now the highest Court in the State, the New York Court of Appeals, has reversed that Court’s Decision. The majority disagreed that the law creates an affirmative duty for clubs to use their defibrillators.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for sidewalk.jpgLife is full of surprises. I got one yesterday.

A client suffered a very bad injury from tripping on a sidewalk defect in a village near Geneva, New York (I won’t name names!). Normally, trip-and-fall on sidewalk cases are nearly impossible to win because of a special law that protects villages (as well as cities, towns, etc.). That law — General Municipal Law section 50-e(4) — says that, under most circumstances, you can’t sue a village, town, city, etc., for injuries caused by defects in a “sidewalk, crosswalk, street, highway, bridge or culvert” as long as the village (or town, city, etc.), has enacted a “prior written notice” local law. Such a local law must in turn say, “hey, folks, you can’t sue us for injuries caused by defects on our sidewalks, crosswalks, streets, highways, bridges or culverts unless, before you were injured, we already had written notice of the defect.”

This is an extremely unfair law. No one, at least in upstate New York, ever writes to a village or town or city to tell them, “hey, you have a defect in your sidewalk at such-and-such a location and you’d better fix it before someone gets hurt”. If people complain at all about a defect or hazard they see, they are more likely just to call and complain. But that’s not enough under New York Law. It has to be in writing to be valid.

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