Since 2003, the law within the City of New York has placed a duty on commercial property owners to maintain City sidewalks bordering their land in a reasonably safe condition. In NYC, the responsibility for maintaining the sidewalks shifted from the City of New York onto the property owners. After the law was passed by the New York City Council, owners of commercial properties or residential properties larger than three-families, are liable for personal injury claims resulting from the owner’s negligent failure to remove snow and ice from the sidewalks bordering their buildings.
A couple of months ago, the Courts in Manhattan and Bronx, which comprise the Appellate Division, First Department, have interpreted New York law as not applying to owners that do not actively occupy the property, otherwise known as “out-of-possession”. The cases decided by this Appellate Court allowed an owner to enter a lease where they contractually transferred responsibility onto the tenants for maintaining the abutting sidewalks. However, a recent 2019 decision from New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, Xiang Fu He v. Troon Management, Inc., has reversed these line of cases and places a nondelegable duty on property owners to maintain their sidewalks.
In the case considered by the New York State’s highest court, a woman was injured when she slipped and fell on the sidewalk abutting the property. At the time she fell, the woman worked for the building’s lessee. She sued the property owner, claiming she was injured from ice that accumulated on the building’s bordering sidewalk. She claimed the ice had resulted from the owner’s negligence in maintaining the sidewalk.
The Appellate Court dismissed the pedestrian’s lawsuit. The Court claimed the out-of-possession landlord’s lease with its tenant, removed its responsibility for maintaining the sidewalk. When arguing before the Court of Appeals, the injured plaintiff claimed the law takes priority over any contractual duty as its language places all liability for sidewalk related personal injuries from the City of New York to the property owners. The Court of Appeals agreed with the woman, that it exposes property owners to potential liability for injuries caused by their failure to properly remove snow and ice from the sidewalks adjacent to their property.
Based on the Court’s interpretation of the Section, the phrase “owner of real property” is clear and unambiguous and does not exclude out-of-possession landowners. This does not change regardless of the out-of-possession owner entering into a contract with a lessee to have it keep the sidewalk in a reasonable safe condition.
The Court of Appeals noted that a property owner’s inability to transfer its responsibility to maintain the sidewalks in a reasonably safe condition encourages them to make decisions that optimize the safety and proper care of sidewalks and reduces harm to pedestrians. If this duty could be contractually transferred onto a lessee-tenant, the owner would no longer have incentive to ensure the lessee is competent in taking care of the sidewalks.
The Court’s decision also noted that while a property owner can still enter into maintenance agreements with tenants or independent companies, the law does not allow the property owner to shift the contractual responsibilities. In doing so, the Court noted this is because the New York City Council, in passing the Section, was determined to make a landowner responsible for personal injuries resulting from negligent maintenance of sidewalks.
This case shows how commercial and multiple-resident property owners cannot use a lease to transfer their legal responsibility for slip and falls accidents that occur on sidewalks adjacent to their premises. It remains an owner’s duty within the City of New York to make sure the sidewalks are clear of snow and ice. If you experience a slip and fall accident caused by snow or ice, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible. Our investigators will go to the site and speak with any witnesses who observed the dangerous condition and obtain videos recording the accident location. By investigating the accident scene right away, we will have much better chances of proving that the sidewalk condition was dangerous and one the property owner is responsible for failing to properly maintain.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of an accident, please reach out to us for a free legal consultation by calling us 24/7 at 212– 514–5100, emailing me at email@example.com, or visiting our law firm in lower Manhattan (42 Broadway, Suite 1927). You can also ask us questions through the 24-hour chat box on our website (www.plattalaw.com). We offer free consultations for all potential personal injury cases.