Defect Was “Trivial”; Personal Injury Action Dismissed

In Easley v. U Haul, 2018 NY Slip Op 08008 (App. Div. Nov. 21, 2018), a personal injury trip-and-fall action, the court held that defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s complaint should have been granted.

In sum, plaintiff alleged that he was “injured when he tripped and fell on a half-inch to one-inch metal protrusion sticking out of the ground while walking into a U Haul parking lot maintained and operated by the defendants.”

Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the defect was too trivial to be actionable. The trial court denied the motion. The Second Department reversed.

The court summarized the law:

Whether a dangerous or defective condition exists on property so as to give rise to liability depends on the particular circumstances of each case and is generally a question of fact for the jury (see Pellegrino v Trapasso, 114 AD3d 917; Acevedo v New York City Tr. Auth., 97 AD3d 515; Stoppeli v Yacenda, 78 AD3d 815). However, not every injury related to an elevated defect need be submitted to a jury (see Trincere v County of Suffolk, 90 NY2d 976; Kehoe v City of New York, 88 AD3d 655, 656).

In determining whether a defect is trivial, courts “must examine all of the facts presented, including the width, depth, elevation, irregularity and appearance of the defect along with the time, place and circumstance of the injury” (Kavanagh v Archdiocese of the City of N.Y., 152 AD3d 654, 655 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Trincere v County of Suffolk, 90 NY2d at 978). “[T]here is no minimal dimension test’ or per se rule that a defect must be a certain minimum height or depth in order to be actionable” (Trincere v County of Suffolk, 90 NY2d at 977). However, a defendant “may not be cast in damages for negligent maintenance by reason of trivial defects on a walkway, not constituting a trap or nuisance, as a consequence of which a pedestrian might merely stumble, stub his toes, or trip over a raised projection[.]

Applying the law, the court explained why the Supreme Court should have granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment:

The defendants presented evidence that the alleged defect was an inch or less in size, that the incident occurred in the daytime hours under clear conditions, and that the area immediately surrounding the alleged defect was clear of debris and not dangerous or trap-like. This evidence was sufficient to establish, prima facie, that the defect was trivial and nonactionable as a matter of law