Group Home May Be Liable for Fall at Restaurant

The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department reversed an order issued by a trial court judge that granted a group home’s motion to dismiss in a slip & fall case that occurred at a restaurant.

The lawsuit was filed by the plaintiff’s parents on behalf of a disabled adult child. The plaintiff was an adult with disabilities who lived in a group home operated by defendant Oswego County Opportunities. Oswego County Opportunities arranged for the plaintiff, another resident, and some employees to go on an overnight trip. The group ate dinner at the defendant Old Mill Restaurant. After his dinner was served, the plaintiff became upset. He decided to walk outside to the parking lot to cool off. He stood up, walked to a side door in the dining area, walked through the side door, and then proceeded to fall straight down into the parking lot. The side door was elevated off of the ground and had no stairs that connected the doorway to the parking lot below. The plaintiff sustained injuries in his fall and brought a personal injury lawsuit against Oswego County Opportunities and Old Mill Restaurant.

Oswego County Opportunities filed a motion to dismiss the claims against it, as well as a motion seeking reimbursement for photocopying expenses that were incurred as part of responding to the complaint and filing the subsequent motion to dismiss.

In its motion, Oswego argued that it was not responsible for the plaintiff’s fall. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the claims against Oswego. The plaintiff and Old Mill Restaurant appealed.

A group home has a duty of care it must exercise toward its residents. This duty of care is the duty to safeguard all of its residents. The group home’s ability to safeguard each resident is measured by each resident’s ability to protect himself or herself. When a resident is disabled, the group home takes on more responsibility for caring for and protecting the resident. In determining the reasonable level of care owed to a disabled person, the court will look at the resident’s physical and mental capabilities as they were known by the group home’s caretakers. The group home will only be responsible for reasonably foreseeable injuries.

Therefore, in order to prevail on a motion to dismiss, Oswego would have had to prove that (1) it had adequately supervised the plaintiff and (2) the injury was not reasonably foreseeable. The plaintiff had behavioral problems, and Oswego was aware of these problems. As such, it may have been foreseeable for the plaintiff to act out by storming off. Because there was a possibility that Oswego did not adequately supervise the plaintiff and/or that the injury was foreseeable, summary judgment was not proper. These two issues are for a jury to decide.

In addition, Oswego argued that its alleged negligence did not proximately cause the fall. In order to prevail on this argument, Oswego would have had to show that either the dangerous condition caused by the restaurant was the sole cause or that the accident happened so fast that even proper supervision by Oswego would have been unable to prevent the fall.

Therefore, the Fourth Department reversed the trial court’s order and reinstated the plaintiff’s complaint. The case will proceed to trial pending any future motions to dismiss.

In addition, the defendant’s motion for reimbursement was also denied.

If you or a loved one was the victim of a slip & fall accident, you need to contact a personal injury attorney immediately. the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC can listen to your story of what happened, explain any potential claims you might have, discuss your legal options, and help you argue your case in court. Contact the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC today to start seeking compensation now.

Smart v. Old Mill Restaurant & Oswego County Opportunities, 260 CA 14-01372 (4th Dept. 2015).

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