Stair Collapse Prompts SJ Against Owner in Premises Action (NY))

In Conklin v 500 512 Seventh Ave, the Appellate Division, First Department unanimously granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability.

The plaintiff, a handyman employed by the defendant’s managing agent, was injured when he fell about 20 feet to a cement floor after the metal landing of a metal staircase in the sub-basement of defendant’s building collapsed under him.  The court found that plaintiff established a prima facie case that defendant had constructive notice of the defective condition of the stairs. Plaintiff submitted photographs of the stairs covered in rust as well as evidence that the defendant had not inspected the staircase in the 27 years preceding the accident.

The court made a point to note that stairs “do not ordinarily collapse absent negligence, and plaintiff did not contribute to the happening of the accident.”  Because this accident could not have been caused by the plaintiff’s actions and in combination with the visible evidence of the defective condition over the course of several years, the court was persuaded to unanimously find for the plaintiff on the issue of liability. The Court does not opine on whether the “handyman” plaintiff was asked to repair the subject staircase, but we suspect not, since the Court likely would have address as much if defendant opposed on those grounds.

This case serves as a cautionary regarding obvious defects especially in the context of accidents where there is no reasonable argument of comparative fault.  Thanks to Alicia Massidas for her contribution to this post.  Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.