We are delighted to announce that New York partner Kevin Fitzpatrick and senior associate Andrew Cota secured a significant victory in successfully arguing a Motion for Summary Judgment in favor of a client involved in a contentious premises liability suit.
The case involved a premises liability action in which the plaintiff claimed that he was injured due to an unsafe condition in a building owned by WSHB's client. He stated that the injury occurred when a safety door that enclosed a pipe closet fell on him. Despite this claim, the plaintiff failed to produce any evidence of our client having knowledge of a problem with the door, or even that the door was open or otherwise improperly secured on the day of the alleged injury. As the pipe closet contains water valves it is not an area that is normally accessed by employees or others in the building except by way of the direction of the Chief Engineer.
WSHB chipped away at the Plaintiff's claim with a full court press consisting of the testimony of two important witnesses- the building manager and the Chief Engineer. Both testified that the door to the pipe closet is not ordinarily left open or unattended. In addition, neither could recall an instance where this had occurred at or near the time of the injury. The closet in question contains water valves and only the Chief Engineer had the authority to shut off the water or upon his direction, a staff member might be directed to shut off the water. The Chief Engineer's affidavit stated that he did not open the pipe closet or direct that it be open at the time of the injury and was not made aware of any complaints that the door was open on that day. He also never received an open closet report prior to the incident and was not aware of any problems around the time of the injury.
Similarly, the building manager testified that he did not open the door in question or access the pipe closet on the date of the injury and he was not aware of the door being open. He also stated that building employees were not directed to open the door and that the staff conducts continuous inspections of the premises, including the stairway where the incident occurred.
In response, the Plaintiff argued that the facts relating to the creation of the dangerous condition were all within the exclusive control of the Defendant, but the court was unpersuaded. It found that "a property owner owes a duty to exercise reasonable care in maintaining its property in a reasonably safe condition under the circumstances." Powers v. 31 E 31 LLC, 24 NY3d 84,94 (2014). In order to show this a defendant must meet the initial burden of showing that it did not create a dangerous or defective condition and did not have actual or constructive knowledge of the condition. Langer v 116 Lexington Ave., Inc., 92 AD3d 597, 598 (1st Dept. 2012).
The court relied heavily on the two affidavits submitted by the WSHB team from persons knowledgeable about the closet in question. It acknowledged that both the building manager and the chief engineer testified that it did not have actual or constructive knowledge of the unsafe condition. Both stated that the door was not opened and no one was instructed to open it. Also, both testified that they did not know the door was open or receive notice of this fact on the date of this incident. The Plaintiff did not present any evidence to establish the existence of a material issue of fact and did not submit any affidavits in opposition to this motion. Based on these facts, the court granted the defense's motion for summary judgment in favor of our client.
This favorable outcome validates the strength of WSHB's legal strategy, the diligence of our legal team, and the merits' of our client's position. It is also a testament to our unwavering commitment to fighting and advocating for our clients' best interests.
Congratulations to Kevin and Andrew on a job well done!