Plaintiff Survives Summary Judgment in Premises Liability Case Involving Alleged Inadequate Lighting

Today’s case summary comes out of the Second Department. In the illuminating decision of Conneally v. Diocese of Rockville Centre, decided April 23, 2014, the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of defendants’ motion for summary judgment. This case addresses a landowner’s duty to properly light their premises.

“At about 9:00 p.m. on August 20, 2009, the then-75-year-old plaintiff allegedly tripped and fell due to an elevation differential between the outdoor plaza area of premises owned by the defendants … and the abutting sidewalk below it, sustaining personal injuries.” Plaintiff “alleged that she did not see the difference in height between the plaza area and the abutting sidewalk because the area was inadequately lit.”

The court recited the applicable law as follows:

To establish a prima facie case of negligence, a plaintiff must establish the existence of a duty owed by a defendant to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, and that such breach was a proximate cause of injury to the plaintiff. A property owner has a duty to maintain his property in a reasonably safe manner. However, a property owner has no duty to protect or warn against an open and obvious condition, which, as a matter of law, is not inherently dangerous. Absent a hazardous condition or other circumstance giving rise to an obligation to provide exterior lighting for a particular area, landowners are generally not required to illuminate their property during all hours of darkness. A landowner whose property is open to the public is charged with the duty of providing safe means of ingress and egress, which includes a duty to provide adequate lighting. (Emphasis added.)

Applying the law to the facts, the court held that defendants failed to meet their burden on summary judgment:

[T]he St. Agnes defendants failed to establish, prima facie, that they did not breach their duty to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a triable issue of fact exists as to whether the St. Agnes defendants breached their duty to adequately illuminate the area where the accident occurred, and whether their alleged failure to adequately illuminate the area proximately caused the accident. The conclusion of the St. Agnes defendants’ expert, that the lighting condition was adequate at the time of the accident, was speculative, since he inspected the area where the accident occurred more than two years after the accident and he failed to show that when he tested the lighting condition, it was the same as it was at the time of the accident.

Since defendants failed to meet their initial burden, it was unnecessary for the court to review the sufficiency of plaintiff’s opposition papers.