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Young v. 1530 Rosedale Partners, LLC, et al. – Plaintiff Not Required to Show Freedom From Comparative Negligence In Addition to Establishing Defendant’s Negligence on Summary Judgment

Written by: Eve Soldatos, Esq.

Edited by: Nicole A. Callahan, Esq.

In this Bronx-venued Supreme Court action, plaintiff, who is blind, alleges that she lost her balance while walking down the staircase from her third-floor apartment and when she reached out to grab the staircase handrail to catch herself, it was not there and she fell.  Plaintiff claims that the Defendant property owners created the dangerous condition that caused her to fall by negligently failing to repair and/or replace the handrail despite having actual and/or constructive notice of the defect.  Plaintiff testified in her deposition that Defendant had notice of the unsteady handrail for approximately eight months to a year, prior to the alleged incident, but did nothing about it. The Defendant maintained that they never received any complaints or violations from the Housing Authority regarding the subject handrail.  Upon the close of discovery, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability and sought to strike Defendant’s affirmative defenses pertaining to comparative fault.  Defendant opposed the motion and cross-moved for an order to dismiss the complaint against it.

Under New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) § 3212, a party moving for summary judgment must show prima facie an entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by tendering sufficient evidence to demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact.  To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the opposing party has to show that there is a material question of fact that requires a trial.  With regard to premises liability, the owner of a property has a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition (Walsh v. Super Value, Inc., 76 A.D.3d 371(2d Dep’t 2010)).  In order for a property owner to be liable to a plaintiff who is injured as a result of an allegedly dangerous or defective condition upon the property, the plaintiff must established that (1) a defective or dangerous condition existed that caused plaintiff’s injuries and damages, and (2) the property owner either created the defective condition or had notice of it, and failed to remedy the defect within a reasonable amount of time (Id.).

The Court granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment as to the issue of liability, finding that Plaintiff met her burden and Defendant failed to raise an issue of fact, particularly with regard to notice of the defect inasmuch as it offered no testimony as to when the loose handrail was last inspected or repaired prior to the incident.  Furthermore, a work order that was dated a year prior to Plaintiff’s incident was insufficient, as Defendant could not provide evidence to show that the repair was completed or that an inspection of the handrail had taken place.

With regard to Defendant’s argument that an issue of fact existed regarding Plaintiff’s comparative negligence, the Court held that even if comparative negligence was an issue in this matter, Plaintiff was not required to make a prima facie showing that she was free from comparative fault in order to be awarded summary judgment on the issue of Defendant’s liability.  The Court highlighted that pursuant to CPLR § 1411, comparative negligence is not a defense to a cause of action of negligence and therefore a bar to a plaintiff’s recovery, but rather a diminishment of the amount of damages.