The law requires municipalities, such as New York City, to maintain their streets and highways in a reasonably safe condition for people who use them.
However, anyone seeking to recover for personal injuries arising from a defective condition on a New York City “street, highway, bridge, wharf, culvert, sidewalk or crosswalk” must – in addition to establishing negligence – comply with the City’s “prior written notice” requirement.
That requirement is codified in section 7-201(c)(2) of the New York City Administrative Code, which provides:
No civil action shall be maintained against the city for damage to property or injury to person or death sustained in consequence of any street, highway, bridge, wharf, culvert, sidewalk or crosswalk, or any part or portion of any of the foregoing including any encumbrances thereon or attachments thereto, being out of repair, unsafe, dangerous or obstructed, unless it appears that written notice of the defective, unsafe, dangerous or obstructed condition, was actually given to the commissioner of transportation or any person or department authorized by the commissioner to receive such notice, or where there was previous injury to person or property as a result of the existence of the defective, unsafe, dangerous or obstructed condition, and written notice thereof was given to a city agency, or there was written acknowledgement from the city of the defective, unsafe, dangerous or obstructed condition, and there was a failure or neglect within fifteen days after the receipt of such notice to repair or remove the defect, danger or obstruction complained of, or the place otherwise made reasonably safe.
In sum, the City of New York may not be subjected to liability for injuries emanating from a dangerous roadway condition unless it has received prior written notice of the dangerous condition, or an exception to the prior written notice requirement applies.
For example, in Mood v. City of N.Y., 53 Misc. 3d 1205(A) (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Qns. Cty. Oct. 4, 2016), the court granted the City of New York’s motion for summary judgment, upon the presentation of “testimony of DOT and FDNY employees, indicating that a search of the relevant records was conducted, covered the period of two years prior to the date of the incident, and found no prior written notice of a defective condition corresponding to the condition alleged by plaintiffs.”
The New York Court of Appeals (New Yorks highest court) has recognized only two exceptions to the statutory rule requiring prior written notice: (1) where the locality created the defect or hazard through an affirmative act of negligence; or (2) where a “special use” confers a special benefit upon the locality.
For cases addressing this requirement, click here.