I am a home owner living in New York City. A pedestrian slipped and fell at about 7am in front of my home. I salted the sidewalk the night before but did not yet get to do so in the morning. She broke her ankle and was taken away by ambulance and now I am being sued by her.
The side walk was cleared of snow but there was an area where an ice patch formed over night. My question is, am I liable for this unfortunate accident? Thank you for any information you can provide.
Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.
Under §19-152 of the New York Administrative Code, property owners are responsible for installing, repairing, and maintaining sidewalks on their adjoining property. This means you had a legal duty to do what a reasonable person would have been required to do under the circumstances. The key word here is “reasonable.”
For example, it would be unreasonable for you to have stayed up all night and into the early hours of the morning de-icing the sidewalk every few minutes. Or that you should have hired a person to stand there all night throwing salt into the sidewalk every time an area seemed to be icy, or a person was about to pass by.
Often people believe they have been “sued,” when they have only received a letter from an attorney demanding compensation for a client. You are not actually sued until a lawsuit has been filed and you’ve been served with a copy of the lawsuit. However, semantics aside, this matter should be taken seriously.
Clearly, the injured woman wants to be compensated for her injuries and resulting expenses. Her attorney is most likely hoping you have homeowners insurance and you will refer the matter to them. The attorney would much rather deal with your homeowners insurance company than with you. When dealing with an insurance company, it’s all just business.
The attorney is hoping rather than having to go to trial and letting a judge or jury decide how much de-icing would have been reasonable, and whether you were negligent in failing to keep the sidewalk free of ice, your insurance company will want to settle the claim out of court.
Right or wrong, insurance companies look at the costs of defending an injury claim, even a tentative one like yours. If the insurance company calculates that the costs of retaining a law firm to defend you is greater than a reasonable settlement, the company will likely avoid the costs of defending the claim, and just settle and be done with it.
If you haven’t already contacted your insurance company, do so immediately. You have a contractual obligation to notify your insurance company in case of an accident which may be covered under the policy. In turn, your insurance company is contractually obligated to defend you in the claim, up to your policy limits, in a lawsuit filed against you.
If, after investigating the claim, your insurance decides to deny the claim, they will fully defend you up to the limits of your policy. However, if the company decides it’s not worth the money, even if the claim is tentative, they may just settle. Unfortunately, other than cooperating with your insurance company in the investigation of the claim, there is little else you can do.
In the unlikely event you did not have homeowners or liability insurance at the time of the fall, contact an attorney as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.
Learn more here: Slip and Falls on Ice or Snow
The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney.
We wish you the best with your claim,
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