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When slip-and-fall accidents result in property damage

The cold winter weather means that it’s slip-and-fall season here in New York and across much of the Northeast. When business owners and landlords fail to shovel sidewalks and spread salt on the ground, they may be held liable for injuries suffered by customers and passersby.

Sometimes, slip-and-fall accidents have consequences that go beyond injuries. If a person happens to be carrying a very expensive item when they slip and fall, the business owner could potentially be held liable for the resulting property damage.

A good example comes from Vermont. Orchestral string instruments made by Stradivarius are considered to be among the finest musical instruments ever produced. They are also quite rare, as the Italian manufacturer of these instruments died in the early 1700s. Only about 500 Stradivarius violins are still in playing condition today, along with about 140 cellos and violas. Needless to say, they are very expensive instruments, and musicians fortunate enough to own one almost always have them insured.

In January of 2012, a musician was carrying a Stradivarius violin outside of a Sheraton Hotel in Vermont. He slipped on an icy sidewalk. The violin was in its case, but the case smashed against the ground and the violinist’s chin smashed against the case. Repairs to the instrument cost more than $89,000 and allegedly reduced its value by more than $1 million.

The insurance company reimbursed the musician for most of the repair costs. It is now pursuing what’s known as “subrogation” against the hotel owners. When insurers engage in subrogation, they seek damages from a third party that essentially caused an insurance loss to one of their policyholders. In short, the insurer pays the claim and seeks to recoup its costs by pursuing compensation from the party that allegedly caused the damage.

The moral of the story here is that property owners have a duty to ensure that their property is well-maintained and that foreseeable hazards are addressed before they result in injuries and property damage. When they fail to clear and de-ice a slippery sidewalk, it could end up costing them a lot of money.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Icy Slip Smashes a Stradivarius,” Jan. 15, 2015

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