Legal Memorandum: Defect in a Step in NY

Issue: Under New York law, is it possible for a defect in a step to be so slight that, by law, no defect is said to exist?

Area of Law: Municipal, County and Local Law, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Steps or stoops; Slight defect
Jurisdiction: New York
Cited Cases: 226 P.2d 157; 641 N.Y.S.2d 276; 226 A.D.2d 271; 269 N.Y.S.2d 587; 47 N.Y.S.2d 324; 584 N.Y.S.2d 944; 108 F.2d 170; 65 N.E. 944; 54 N.Y.S.2d 528; 173 N.Y. 72
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 02/01/2001

Although there are annotations dedicated to defects in concrete and the resulting liability, there are no similar works dealing solely with steps or stoops in disrepair.  See Annotation, Degree of Inequality in Sidewalk Which Makes Question for Jury or for Court, as to Municipality’s Liability, 37 A.L.R.2d 1187 (1954).  In a general discussion of liability for injuries resulting from defective property in general, however, stairs and staircases are briefly addressed.  As would be presumed, the authors concluded that "[s]light differences in the width of treads or the height of risers on exterior stairs, or other slight defects, do not constitute a dangerous or hazardous condition constituting actionable negligence." 62A Am. Jur. 2d Premises Liability § 683 (1990) (emphasis added).  Both authorities discuss those cases in which the court considered a continuum of cases, progressing from those in which the facts were insufficient as a matter of law to charge one with liability for the resulting injuries to those that presented sufficient facts to be submitted to the jury or other trier of fact.  See Annotation, supra, 37 A.L.R.2d at 1189.

Early on, New York courts developed case law that adhered to a strict test for those circumstances that would lead to liability.  In Hamilton v. City of Buffalo, 173 N.Y. 72, 65 N.E. 944 (N.Y. 1903), the injured plaintiff was nonsuited at trial.  Testimony was presented that the hole that allegedly caused the plaintiff’s fall measured no more than four inches deep.  The appellate court affirmed the dismissal, […]

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