When looking for an interesting case to explore, I usually like cases that have lots of issues thrown together. The case Frieberg v City of NY 2021 NY Slip Op 02100 at first does not seem very dramatic- a slip and fall on an exterior step-yet exposes lots of issues. The decision explores physics, handrails and proximate cause. Proximate cause is connecting the fall to theories of negligence.
The case is simple: man falls on exterior steps during a rain storm. Defendant claims that the fall is due to rain and there is nothing wrong with the step. Defendant expert concludes there is nothing wrong with step. Plaintiff counters with an expert that claims the step is worn thereby rendering the step more slippery due to the wear and tear. The Court does not buy that argument. The Court concludes that the expert has not furnished sufficient proof of his theory. No physics to back up the theory.
The Plaintiff further argues that there was no handrail and therefore he fell. The Court states that Plaintiff claim of the accident due to no handrail contradicted earlier testimony that he fell because of pooling rainwater on the steps.
There are a few interesting things we see in this case:
First: we don’t learn about the “pooling of water” on the step until the end of the decision. The Court does not mention “pooling” in the introduction. The Court would have you think the guy is just a klutz falling on a wet step. Second, the Court scrutinizes the expert opinion of the Plaintiff and finds it lacking probity and science. Third, the Court scrutinizes the testimony of the Plaintiff and will not accept similar but not totally seamless explanations of the accident.
The take away from decisions like this is simple: Courts don’t like cases of people falling on steps due to rain storms in progress. Does that mean that such a case is always doomed to fail? Not necessarily. I believe a little more science on the part of the expert, a little better testimony connecting the rain and the handrail would have saved the case. Get the story straight.