Slip and fall accidents on sidewalks can cause serious, life-changing injuries. As such, if somebody else's negligence causes your accident, you should consider filing a personal injury lawsuit to claim compensation for your injuries. However, New York law may sometimes stop you winning your case if the court decides that a sidewalk defect is not serious enough. Find out what the trivial doctrine means, and learn more about how this legislation could affect your case.
Liability in a slip and fall accident
People slip and fall over for various reasons, but some of these accidents occur because of negligence. For example, if you fall over because a sidewalk is defective, the person or organization that owns the sidewalk is often negligent because they failed to correct or repair the defect.
Of course, some private property owners and most New York municipalities must look after vast areas of sidewalk that members of the public use every day. Making sure these sidewalks are not defective is a significant responsibility. In some cases, even though a sidewalk is defective, the defect is too minor to cause serious injury. In these cases, the trivial doctrine applies.
Defining trivial defects
A property owner is not liable for somebody's injury if the courts decide that a defect is trivial. When lawmakers first enacted the trivial doctrine, the law stated that you could only take action over a defect that was four inches or longer. As such, the courts would often outright reject a case that concerned any defects smaller than this before the plaintiff could present any evidence.
Over time, the courts have moved away from a specific, numeric definition of a trivial defect. In increasingly complex cases, lawmakers realized that other factors can determine whether a defect is trivial or not. As such, courts will now take all the relevant facts and information into account to determine whether a defect falls under the trivial doctrine.
The trivial doctrine is now a crucial element within many slip and fall accidents. New York municipalities will often defend a lawsuit on this basis, citing that it is simply not possible to manage every sidewalk defect. As such, if you want to file a personal injury lawsuit, you will need to consider all the evidence relevant to the defect.
It's seldom easy to prove or disprove that a defect was trivial because there are so many factors to take into account. Some of the relevant factors a court will consider include:
- The lighting. In a well-lit street, a minor defect presents less of a hazard than you would expect in a dark alleyway.
- The nature of the defect. A crack in the pavement presents a different hazard than a jagged piece of metal.
- The location of the defect. A defect in the middle of a busy stairway presents a greater risk than one that is in the corner of a corridor.
The actions of the plaintiff are also relevant. For example, a defective staircase may only have a minor problem in one place, but if that defect causes somebody to trip where they could reasonably expect to walk down the steps, a court could argue that it is not a trivial defect.
As such, an experienced personal injury attorney will gather as much possible evidence to prove that a defect is not trivial. What's more, measurements are not always relevant. It's entirely possible that a defect could exceed four inches, but a court could still rule that the problem is trivial when taking into account all the other facts surrounding the accident.
If you slip and fall on a sidewalk, you will need to prove that the property owner was negligent and that his or her negligence caused your accident and injuries. The laws that apply to this type of case can differ from location to location, so it's best to talk to a trained personal injury attorney from a firm like Putnam Lieb for more expert help and advice.