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In August, the Supreme Court of New York, Nassau County, sitting in Mineola on Long Island, granted summary judgment to a resort in the Catskills regarding a personal injury slip and fall accident which occurred on the ice and snow in February 2009.
The case is Incantalupo v. Villa Roma Resort and Conference Center Inc. The plaintiff, a guest at the resort in upstate Callicoon, was walking from the chalet to the parking lot. Rather than use the walkway to the parking lot, Mr. Incantalupo took a shortcut over a snow-covered the hill. He had crested the hill and was at the bottom approaching the parking lot when he slipped and fell on the snow covered ice.
In their personal injury lawsuit, the Incantalupos alleged that Villa Roma was negligent in carelessly allowing the walkway to the parking lot to accumulate ice, snow covered ice and snow, failing to properly inspect and maintain the walkway and failing to warn of the dangerous condition. Villa Roma moved the court to dismiss the complaint on summary judgment, i.e. without a trial. Summary judgment is appropriate where there are no material facts in dispute, and the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
As the court noted, on a motion for summary judgment, it is the court’s function to decide whether there is a material factual issue to be tried, but not to resolve any such issue. The moving party must show it has a right to judgment in its favor by making what is known as a prima facie case. In a slip and fall matter, the defendant can prove a prima facie case by showing it neither created the hazardous or defective condition nor had actual or constructive notice of the condition for a sufficient length of time to discover and remedy the situation. The burden then shifts to the plaintiff to produce evidence of the existence of material issues of fact which would require a trial.
An employee of the resort testified that he knew patrons used the hill as a shortcut, but the resort never attempted any snow or ice removal on the hill or posted any signs not to walk down the hill. There was also a question whether patrons had created a path on the hill by their continued use, or whether they walked all over the hill without creating any discernible path. These questions would seem to some to be material issues of fact going to whether the resort knew about the dangerous condition yet did nothing to remedy it or warn about it, but the court did not think so.
The court cited some earlier cases in deciding the defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. For instance, the court quoted from Dalli v. McGreen for the proposition that “… in general, a property owner has no duty to clear snow and ice from unpaved areas not intended to be used as a public walkway, as long as nearby sidewalks provide an adequate means of access to the property.” Also, according to Garcia v. New York City Housing Authority, “a landowner does not have a duty to remove snow and ice from a yard area off and away from the public walkway.” There was also the case of Yan Quan Wu v. City of New York, where the defendant “established their prima facie entitlement to summary judgment by showing they had no duty to clear the grassy area adjacent to the sidewalk and undertook no snow removal efforts in the area where the plaintiff fell.”
The court went further and held that even if Villa Roma had a duty to remove snow and ice from the grassy hill where the accident took place in this case, the Incantalupos failed to raise an issue of fact regarding whether the defendant had notice of a hazardous condition, despite the employee’s testimony described above. It is unfortunate that a jury will not have the opportunity to decide whether or not the facts warrant a judgment for the plaintiffs; this case shows how important it is to thoroughly prepare a case and be able to argue strongly in opposition of the defendant’s inevitable motion to dismiss. Sometimes, however, the judge simply does not agree about the relevance or importance of the facts and has the power to dismiss the case without a trial.