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New York Appellate Tribunal Rejects Snow and Ice Cleaning Contractor’s Request for Summary Judgment in Slip and Fall Lawsuit

Property owners are not liable for every injury that happens on their premises. For instance, it would be unlikely that liability would lie with a property owner in a Syracuse premises liability lawsuit in which a passerby was struck by a limb blown down by tornadic or hurricane-force winds.

However, if a particular accident was reasonably foreseeable to the property owner, liability may indeed be imposed. In the example of the downed limb, the landowner might become liable if the injured person could prove that the limb in question was from a dead tree that, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have been cut down months or even years before the plaintiff’s injury and could have been blown down by much less severe winds. In other words, maybe that tree branch was “an accident just waiting to happen.”

Snow and ice are also natural events about which a property owner’s liability depends very much on the circumstances of a particular accident. In some situations, others besides the landowner may also be held liable.

Facts of the Case

In a recently decided case arising in the Supreme Court of Ulster County, the plaintiff was a woman who was allegedly injured after she slipped and fell on ice in a parking lot in 2017. The accident happened on the property of a resort, which had entered into an oral contract with the defendant  to provide snow removal services. According to the plaintiff, she had walked “very gingerly” after exiting her vehicle but had nevertheless slipped and landed on opaque ice that remained in the parking lot after the defendant’s “final cleanup” of snow and ice that had fallen in the area recently.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court denied this motion, and the defendant sought appellate review.

Decision of the Court

The New York Appellate Division, Third Department, affirmed the supreme court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. While New York law did not generally support the claim of a nonparty to a contract for tort liability, there was an important exception. When, as here, the contracting party’s failure to exercise reasonable care in the performance of his or her duties resulted in the launching of a “force or instrument of harm,” there was the possibility of the defendant being held liable to the plaintiff for his or her resulting personal injuries.

With regard to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, he submitted testimony setting forth his procedure for clearing the snow in the parking lot in which the plaintiff was injured, and he relied on this information to support his argument that the plaintiff had failed to assert a triable issue of fact as to his liability. The reviewing court disagreed with the defendant’s contention, however, pointing out that the defendant’s own submissions disclosed a triable issue of fact as to whether his cleaning of the parking lot launched a force or instrument of harm, particular with regard to the issue of whether the manner in which the defendant placed the snow caused some of it to melt and refreeze in the parking lot in question, thereby causing the plaintiff’s fall.

Speak to Counsel About a Slip and Fall Case

Those who have been hurt on another’s property should talk to an attorney about their legal rights under New York’s premises liability principles. To schedule a free consultation with a member of the DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP legal team, call us now at 833-200-2000. Please remember that personal injury claims are subject to a filing deadline; late-filed claims will be dismissed by the courts in most cases.

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