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Are there limits to an owner’s liability?

New York places legal responsibilities upon owners to maintain their properties and may hold them liable for any injuries that incur on their premises. This liability is not absolute, however.

Owners must keep their property in a reasonably safe condition and cannot not create a dangerous or defective condition on the premises. Owners must have actual or constructive notice of the defect and sufficient time to remedy it. A defect must be transparent.

Owner or landlord negligence must be the proximate or immediate cause of the accident. Proof of negligence has to exceed surmise and speculation. Where the property only furnishes the location or condition for the occurrence of an accident, the owner is not liable or negligent.

A New York appellate court, for example, denied a plaintiff’s suit against a shopping mall owner for being struck by a car. The driver was traveling at 10 to 15 miles per hour and was blinded by the sun after she turned into the mall. The victim was walking around 75 feet from the turn.

The Court rejected the victim’s argument that various traffic and pedestrian controls, devices, signs and markings would have made the property generally safer. No expert testimony linked these safety enhancements to the circumstances of this pedestrian accident.

The driver’s actions and the blinding sun, in fact, were the sole cause of the accident. The driver testified that that she continued to drive her car for 75 feet despite being blinded by the sun while trying to find a parking space and that she did not apply her brakes until after she hit the pedestrian.

Victims of a fall or other accident occurring on another person’s property should seek legal advice to help determine whether the owner is negligent and liable for compensation for serious injuries. Legal assistance can help assure that time periods are met, that factual and legal issues are addressed and that the correct individuals are held responsible.