For many people, the approaching winter holiday season includes attending holiday parties and making merriment with friends, coworkers and family. In New York, as well as across the nation, a significant number of these gatherings will likely be held at other people’s homes.
However, the holiday season also means that icy sidewalks and other dangerous property conditions are common. Although it is unlikely to be at the forefront of your mind when attending a party at another person’s house, you may ask what happens if you are seriously injured at someone else’s house by a dangerous property condition. Fortunately, New York law clearly spells out the duties of homeowners in these circumstances.
Premises liability in New York
The duties of homeowners (and other property owners) is contained in an area of law called premises liability. Under this law, owners and occupiers of homes or property can be held liable for any accidents or injuries to visitors that occur while they are on the property.
Although the liability of the property owner or occupier traditionally was determined by the status of visitor (i.e. trespasser or guest), New York law has done away with this rule. Under New York law, a property owner (or occupier) has a legal duty to take reasonable measures to protect his or her guests from injury by dangerous conditions on the property—such as an icy driveway.
In carrying out the duty, the property owner or occupier must take reasonable steps to discover and correct dangerous conditions on the property. In addition, the owner or occupier must warn his or her guests of any hidden—but not obvious—dangerous conditions on the property that he or she is aware of (or should be aware of). A loose floorboard is an example of such a hidden condition.
However, the property owner or occupier’s liability for injuries to guests is not absolute. The property owner or occupier only has a duty to prevent the occurrence of foreseeable injuries. For example, a property owner or occupier would likely not have a duty to protect a party guest against a slippery roof, since it is not foreseeable that a guest at a party would be injured because he or she ventured out on the roof. Conversely, the owner would have a duty to protect a guest against a slippery driveway, as it is foreseeable that a guest would use the driveway and could be injured by a slip and fall.
Consult an attorney
If a property owner or occupier fails to keep guests on the premises reasonably safe from unsafe conditions, the owner or occupier can be held liable for the medical bills, lost wages and other damages that the guest sustains. As premises liability law is complicated and full of exceptions, if you are injured by a dangerous condition while on another’s property, speak with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney. An attorney can further advise you of your rights to compensation.