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Is an apartment liable when NY man dies in fall off fire escape?

A 30-year-old New Yorker stepped out of his apartment to have a smoke on his fire escape early one morning. The prior evening had been rainy, and the surface was still wet. During his time outside, the man slipped and fell. The fire escape was located off the fifth floor of the apartment building - the fall was fatal.

The tragic accident leaves loved ones wondering what went wrong. Others in similar situations may ask who is liable for these types of accidents? If the fall was the result of a defect on the fire escape, the apartment owner may bear some responsibility in the accident. This would arise under the legal theory of premises liability.

What is premises liability?

Premises liability is, essentially, the requirement that a property owner maintain their property in a safe condition. The use of the property weighs heavily in the court's decision about whether or not to hold the property owner accountable for an injury that occurs on their property. In cases like these, it is not uncommon for courts to allow a tenant to hold a landlord responsible for the accident when a tenant is injured due to a defect within an apartment building.

How does a victim establish premises liability?

In New York, the courts generally require the victim or loved ones address three questions: (1) was there a defective condition, (2) who is responsible for the defective condition, and (3) expert opinions. Courts may require additional information depending on the details of the case.

In this case, the presence of damage to the fire escape could help to establish the first question. Next, the victim will need to show who owns the property and that the owner had either actual or constructive knowledge of the defect that led to the injury. Constructive knowledge means that the owner may not actually know of the defect, but that the defect was visible and apparent, and a responsible owner should have known about the defect. If the case involves building codes, as this one likely would, it is also wise to bring in experts to provide testimony about a potential violation.

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