The death of a plaintiff can be devastating to that decedent’s cause of action — especially where the decedent dies before being deposed, as in Thompson-Shepard v. Lido Hall Condominiums. This 2019 First Department decision granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment because there was no way for the cause of plaintiff’s un-witnessed accident to be surmised.
Decedent was allegedly injured when he fell on the stairs at defendant’s premises. His pre-deposition death, unrelated to the unwitnessed fall, precluded plaintiff’s estate from asserting a conclusive the cause of the accident.
Plaintiff attempted to remedy this defect by submitting an expert affidavit claiming that the irregular and excessive riser heights coupled with plaintiff’s testimony that she saw decedent’s leg lodged in a riser showed that the defective riser heights caused decedent’s accident. The court found that the expert failed to raise an issue of fact as there was no witness to link the claimed defect to decedent’s accident as there was no sworn statement or testimony by decedent claiming he fell due to riser height.
It is crucial to remember in trip and fall cases that a plaintiff’s cause of action hinges on the cause of the accident. When plaintiffs are unable to conclusively determine what caused them to fall, there is no way for defendants to be on notice. As a practice point, locking in inconclusive testimony as to proximate cause is fatal to a plaintiff’s negligence action. Thanks to Mehreen Hayat for her contribution to this post. Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.