Location of Alleged Defect Alone Does Not Dictate Liability in Sidewalk Defect Trip/Fall Case, Court of Appeals Holds

In Sangaray v West Riv. Assoc., LLC, 2016 NY Slip Op 01002 (N.Y. Ct. App. Feb. 11, 2016), New York’s highest court interpreted NYC Administrative Code 7-210, which (generally speaking) shifts liability from the city to the owners of abutting property.

The court held that summary judgment should not have been granted in favor of defendant property owner West River. It explained:

As part of its prima facie showing of entitlement to summary judgment, West River was required to do more than simply demonstrate that the alleged defect was on another landowner’s property. Here, West River focused solely on the location of the actual defect upon which plaintiff allegedly tripped, and ignored its burden of demonstrating that it complied with its own duty to maintain the sidewalk abutting its property in a reasonably safe condition and/or that it was not a proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries

Plaintiff tripped on an expansion joint that abutted the Mercados’ property. That does not end the inquiry, nor does the fact that the defect upon which plaintiff tripped was in front of the Mercado property necessarily absolve West River of liability. Although West River did not have a duty to remedy any defects in front of the Mercado property, section 7-210 (a) imposed a duty on West River to maintain the sidewalk abutting its premises in a reasonably safe condition. Moreover, the plain language of section 7-210 (b) provides that West River may be held liable for injuries where its failure to maintain its sidewalk is a proximate cause of that injury. Here, most of the sunken sidewalk flag that plaintiff traversed abutted West River’s property, and plaintiff claims that West River’s sidewalk flag had sunk lower than the expansion joint upon which plaintiff allegedly tripped. Thus, West River failed to meet its burden of demonstrating entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, leaving factual questions as to whether West River breached its duty to maintain the sidewalk flag abutting its property and, if so, whether that breach was a proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries.