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When a person is injured due to a hazardous condition at a commercial property, there are often multiple parties pointing fingers at each other. Property owners, management companies, tenants, and a variety of contractors may be involved. New York premises liability attorneys know that it can be difficult to sort out who is responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries, as in a recent case.

The plaintiff filed suit to recover damages for injuries she sustained in a slip and fall in the building where she worked. The defendants were the management company that managed the premises where she fell and the aquarium company that was contracted to service the fish tank at those premises. The defendants each moved for summary judgment.

Aquarium Company

The aquarium company argued that, as a contractor, it did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care. The aquarium company submitted the deposition testimony of its owner. He testified that the aquarium was a saltwater tank, and the company brought saltwater to the premises. He testified there was no reason for one of his employees to take or add water to the tank on the date of the accident. There was nothing that would have to be washed in the office’s sink. He testified the employee who was at the premises that day told him that a woman said she had slipped, but the employee did not see the fall.

The aquarium company argued the plaintiff’s deposition showed she did not know what caused the slippery condition or whether she had slipped on water or something else. Additionally, the aquarium company argued that the plaintiff did not detrimentally rely on it and that it had not assumed a duty through a contract to maintain the premises.

The management company argued the plaintiff had raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the aquarium company created the slippery condition. The plaintiff testified she observed nothing on the kitchen floor shortly before 10:00. She later saw an aquarium company employee running water in the sink. She said he had a cup or a pitcher and was either putting water in the bucket from the sink or removing water from the bucket and disposing of it in the sink.

The plaintiff testified she slipped and fell in the kitchen around 11:00. She said she felt the slipperiness and noticed her pants were wet after the fall. She said the aquarium company ran in, asked if she was okay, and wiped up the floor with a cloth.

The plaintiff argued the aquarium company failed to meet the burden of showing it did not create the slippery condition. She argued the conflict between her testimony that she saw an employee using the sink and the owner’s testimony that he would have no reason to do so raised a question of fact as to whether the company created the condition. She further argued that it could be inferred from her testimony that the aquarium company created the condition.

The court found the aquarium company failed to make a prima facie showing it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The plaintiff’s testimony that there was not water on the floor before the aquarium company’s employee used the sink and she slipped on a liquid near the sink after he used the sink raised an issue of fact as to whether that employee created the slippery condition.

Property Management Company

The property management company submitted the deposition testimony of its executive vice president in support of its own motion for summary judgment. Additionally, only a building engineer and superintendent were present during the day. He stated the tenant was responsible for cleaning within its own space during the day, and his company did not have a responsibility to clean those spaces during the day. The maintenance company only cleaned in the evenings, and the management company did not inspect or supervise the maintenance company’s cleaning.

The management company argued there was no evidence that it created the condition or that the plaintiff relied on its continued performance. It argued it did not have actual or constructive notice of the condition. The management company also argued that the plaintiff’s testimony suggested the aquarium company caused the condition.

In opposition to the management company’s motion, the aquarium company argued the property management agreement established that the management company owed the plaintiff a duty of care. It also argued the management company had not shown it did not have notice of the hazard, since it did not provide information on when it last inspected the premises.

The court found the property management company had met its burden of establishing prima facie entitlement to summary judgment. There was testimony it did not have a duty to clean the kitchen during the day. The aquarium company’s argument that the management company assumed a duty of care through the agreement failed because the cleaning was not a condition of the agreement. Additionally, the plaintiff’s statement suggested the management company did not have notice of the condition, and there was no evidence of actual notice.

As this case shows, a plaintiff in a slip and fall case does not have to show who caused the hazardous condition to get past summary judgment; she just has to raise a triable issue of fact. If you have been injured on someone else’s property, an experienced New York premises liability attorney can help you recover from the responsible party. Call the Law Offices of Marc S. Albert at 1.855.252.3788 to discuss your case.

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