Why Did the City Cross the Highway? To Avoid a Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit

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Where you slip and fall in the state of New York may determine whether you can pursue damages for your injuries, as shown by a recent decision from the state's highest court.

In Groninger v. Village of Mamaroneck, the New York Court of Appeals shut down a lawsuit by a woman who slipped and fell on an icy village parking lot.

Their reason: The parking lot where she fell was considered a "highway" for the purpose of interpreting village law.

The distinction matters because highways and municipal parking lots are treated differently in New York premises liability cases. According to village law, an injured party cannot sue a village for injuries sustained from slipping on an icy "sidewalk, crosswalk, street, highway, bridge or culvert" unless the village is given written notice of the condition and has a chance to fix it.

In other words, a village cannot be held liable for injuries on an icy highway unless given written notice. However, the village law does not explicitly require notice be given regarding icy parking lots.

The majority held that the parking lot in question served the "functional purpose" of a highway, which is broadly defined as "[t]he entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel." Accordingly, they found the village was entitled to notice of any icy conditions before a suit could be pursued.

What Does It Mean for Injured Victims?

Three judges disagreed with the majority, arguing that the decision contradicts existing law. They suggested a "mere judicial aversion to municipal liability" was at the heart of the majority's decision. If courts continue limiting slip and fall lawsuits in this way, it could become much more difficult for injured plaintiffs to collect damages.

Fortunately for victims, this decision only applies to lawsuits against municipalities. Private property owners are not shielded by the same law and can be sued for injuries caused by their negligence.

If you have been injured as a result of a property owner's negligence you may be entitled to damages for your injuries. Contact an experienced a personal injury attorney to discuss your case and your legal options.