Issues of Fact Preclude Summary Judgment in New York Trip and Fall Case

In Hines v. HSBC Bank USA, Inc., the Wayne County Supreme Court held that a Plaintiff in a trip and fall action provided enough proof of her negligence cause of action to create triable issues if fact that defeated Defendant’s summary judgment motion.

The facts in Hines are relatively straightforward. Plaintiff Hines tripped and fell on the sidewalk outside of the HSBC Bank, where she was a regular customer, in what was later determined to be a small depression in the sidewalk. Under New York law, as an owner or possessor of a property open to the public, HSBC had a duty to exercise reasonable care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition for the protection of all persons whose presence was reasonably foreseeable. In order for Plaintiff to prevail in her suit, she had to prove that (1) the premises were not reasonably safe, (2) HSBC was negligent in not keeping the premises in a reasonably safe condition, and (3) HSBC’s negligence in allowing the unsafe condition to exist was a substantial factor in causing her injury.

HSBC moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the record contained insufficient proof as a matter of law as to the three elements necessary for Plaintiff to successfully pursue her action. Specifically, HSBC argued that (1) the alleged defect was trivial in nature and did not constitute a hazard, (2) HSBC was not negligent because it did not create the allege defect or have constructive notice of it, and (3) Plaintiff’s proof demonstrates that it is as likely as not that her fall was caused by a non-actionable trip unrelated to the alleged sidewalk defect. Under the standard of law applicable to summary judgment motions, the court then had to determine whether there was an issue of fact as to each of the elements that Plaintiff must prove, which analysis is conducted in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.

With respect to the first issue, the court found that while it is possible for a judge to determine as a matter of law whether an alleged defect is trivial, New York law favors presenting this issue as a factual question to the jury to determine whether a property condition is unreasonably dangerous. Based on the record, the court could not conclude as a matter of law that the alleged defect was trivial. Regarding the second element of foreseeability, while the court did acknowledge that HSBC did not have actual knowledge of the alleged defect, he held that Plaintiff presented enough proof that the bank had constructive notice of it, which was enough to create a triable issue of fact. Finally, with respect to the third element of proximate cause, the court determined that Plaintiff’s deposition testimony identified the defective condition that allegedly caused her injury, which a jury could find credible as the cause of the trip and fall. The court denied HSBC’s summary judgment motion in its entirety.