First published: Jul 2023
TAKEAWAY This sidewalk tale, one of the most common types of legal action, serves as a reminder for co-op and condo board directors across the city. Under the New York City administrative code, property owners bear not only the responsibility for their buildings but also for the safety of the adjacent public sidewalks. This crucial duty cannot be delegated or brushed aside. Regular and thorough inspections, coupled with prompt repairs, are paramount in limiting the risk of personal injury claims. The story underscores a crucial point - no matter how obvious a hazardous condition might appear, it doesn't absolve property owners from their duty. The safety and well-being of pedestrians remain a top priority and cannot be compromised.
VILLEDA v. BD. OF MANAGERS OF JAMAICA EAST CONDOMINIUM
WHAT HAPPENED One summer day in August 2017, a seemingly ordinary day turned into a major event for one unfortunate pedestrian and into a long-running legal saga for the Jamaica East Condominium. Maria Valleda, busy with her errands, tripped and fell on the sidewalk adjacent to Jamaica East. She briefly lost consciousness and suffered a broken toe. The incident spurred her to take legal action, and she did so in November 2018, filing a personal injury suit against the condominium.
IN COURT the legal showdown unfolded in the courtroom, Valleda filed a motion for summary judgment, honing in on the defendant's liability for its failure to maintain and promptly repair an uneven sidewalk adjacent to the condominium. Under the New York City administrative code, a property owner has an ongoing obligation to maintain the public sidewalk which abuts its property.
The condominium wasn't going down without a fight, however. It claimed that the sidewalk’s condition was "open and obvious," suggesting that it was the pedestrian's responsibility to take care. The court quickly debunked this notion, emphasizing that the issue of whether a condition is obvious or not only relates to a plaintiff's comparative liability. It did not, in any way, excuse the condominium from its duty to comply with their ongoing obligation to maintain the public sidewalk adjacent to their property.
The courtroom battle intensified when the condominium sought to shift liability onto the contractor it had hired for repairs (which had not been done for more than a year from when the contractor had been hired). The court deemed this argument futile, ruling that the duty to maintain the sidewalk could not be outsourced to a third party. This left the condominium solely accountable for the maintenance of the sidewalk. Adding fuel to the fire, the condominium association's president admitted during her deposition that the association had noticed the tripping hazard of the sidewalk.
With the cards laid bare, the decisive moment arrived. The court granted summary judgment in favor of Maria Valleda, holding the condominium liable for its failure to reasonably maintain the hazardous sidewalk, which had caused Maria Valleda’s injuries. The almost five year-long case can now move to trial, with the issue of comparative fault, if any, and damages to be determined at that time.
COUNSEL For Maria Villeda MICHAEL PETERS Siegel & Coonerty / For the Board and Jamaica East Condominium GARY TEUBNER Gannon, Rosenfarb & Drossman / JUDGE Lourdes M. Ventura