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The Safety Dance
by Ron Davis

Failure to install proper safety devices at a tenant’s premises has cost the owners of a New York retail complex nearly $1.5 million.

The complex is located in New York County, and the owners had leased space to the tenant to operate a retail jewelry store. Inside the tenant’s premises, however, was a steep staircase located in an open showroom. That staircase was the scene of an accident suffered by the manager of the jewelry store.

While working in the showroom, the manager tripped and fell down the length of the staircase, sustaining severe multiple fractures of her ankle and arm. Those injuries required multiple surgical operations, numerous medical procedures and extensive rehabilitation. The injuries were also linked to her onset of degenerative arthritis.

In suing the owners of the premises, she claimed that they failed to properly barricade the staircase where the accident occurred. A jury subsequently returned a verdict in her favor, awarding her $2 million for past pain and suffering and $1 million for future pain and suffering.

The owners of the retail complex appealed the jury’s awards, arguing that the store manager should have been found at least partially at fault for the accident. The owners also disputed the multimillion-dollar awards as “excessive.”

A New York State appellate court agreed with the jury verdict, explaining, “There was sufficient evidence from which the jury could infer that the landlords had control over that part of the premises in which the staircase was located and that they breached their duty to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition…. Similarly, the jury’s finding that the manager’s negligence did not contribute to the cause of her accident was a fair interpretation of the evidence and will not be disturbed.”

The court did find, however, that the award of damages was excessive and reduced the amounts to $1 million for past pain and suffering and $450,000 for future pain and suffering. (Kraus v. Caliche Realty Estates, Inc., 755 N.Y.S. 2d 38 [A.D. 1 Dept. 2003])

Decision: February 2003
Published: May 2003



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