Injury Law Report: Fall Case Dismissed By Second Department

The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department reversed a Trial Court’s order denying the defendant’s motion for summary judgment in a slip-and-fall bathroom case.

The plaintiff was a frequent visitor at the Yonkers Racing Association. She had used the bathroom at the facility many times in the past. On the day of the accident, she walked into the bathroom. While she was walking through the bathroom, she fell and injured herself. She notified a security officer on the property about her fall. The plaintiff told the security officer what had happened, and he typed up a report. The report said that when walking into the bathroom, the plaintiff looked into the mirror that was on the right wall by the entrance. The plaintiff said she was not paying attention and walked into a wall, which caused her fall.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against Yonkers Racing Corporation, which owns the racetrack in New York. In her complaint, she alleged that Yonkers Racing Corporation’s negligence caused her slip-and-fall injuries. Yonkers responded, and the parties then began the discovery process.

During discovery, the parties gathered evidence and deposed witnesses. One piece of evidence that was gathered was the security officer’s incident report. During plaintiff’s deposition, she testified that she was extremely familiar with the facilities because she went there all of the time. In fact, she had been in that same bathroom countless number of times. She testified that upon entering, she didn’t feel any slipperiness on the floor. She was looking forward as she walked in and slipped on something. She said there may have been a slippery substance underneath her because she felt damp after falling.

However, at another point in the deposition, she said that she never saw or felt a puddle underneath her and that she was unable to say whether the floor was wet at the time of the accident. In addition, when she was questioned about the lighting in the bathroom, she said she never noticed the lighting in the bathroom, including whether it was darker in there than usual.

In a slip-and-fall case, the plaintiff must identify the cause of the fall, prove that it is dangerous or defective, and prove that the property owner either caused the defect or had notice of it. If the plaintiff can’t testify as to the cause of the fall, then it doesn’t matter if a dangerous condition existed or if the race track was aware of it. The legal system does not allow plaintiffs to prevail on claims based on pure speculation. Testimony and evidence that prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a specific type of defect caused the fall are necessary to prevail.

Here, the plaintiff was unable to identify what caused her fall. At one point, she said she wasn’t paying attention and walked into a wall. At another point, she insists she slipped and fell but that there was no puddle on the floor. At another point, she said she never saw a puddle but did land in something wet. In her complaint, the plaintiff alleged that water or a cleaning substance had caused her fall. However, she failed to properly identify what caused the fall based on her inconsistencies.

When a plaintiff is unable to identify the cause of her fall, then any argument that a defendant proximately caused the fall is peculation. The defendant is therefore entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. The only way to survive such a motion is for the plaintiff to show some triable issue of fact in her opposition papers, which this plaintiff failed to do. As such, the Second Department held that the defendant’s motion for summary judgment should have been granted and dismissed the case.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a slip-and-fall accident, contacted the expert slip-and-fall personal injury lawyers at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC to start reviewing your claims today.

Trapani v. Yonkers Racing Corp., 124 AD3d 628 (2nd Dept. 2015).

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