Hard as it may be to believe, there are still some areas of the law in New York regarding trip or slip and fall cases that remain unsettled.

Recently, a trial court in the Bronx tackled one such issue: are the stairs leading from a sidewalk trap door into the basement of a building considered "interior stairs" for purposes of New York's building code?

The reason for the question is simple: if it is considered an "interior stairway," then the law would require that it remain "unobstructed," and the failure to abide by that rule would, at the very least, constitute evidence of negligence; conversely, if such stairs would not be considered an "interior stairway," injured plaintiffs would not be able to rely upon that purported code violation to prove their trip and fall or other type of injury case.

Enter Justice Aarons in Bautista v. 85th Columbus Corp., 302391/10, who opined that the defendant could not be held liable in negligence for the slippery condition on the stairs because, in her view, interior stairs are different from "access stairs," which are "between two floors in a building that do not serve as a required exit," and from "exterior stairs," which are "open to the outdoor air that do serve as a required exit." According to Aarons, trapdoor stairs do not fit clearly into any category, and no court has explicitly decided what they are insofar as the Building Code is concerned.

I would not be surprised in the least if a plaintiff decides to take this issue up on appeal.

Jonathan Cooper
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Non-Compete, Trade Secret and School Negligence Lawyer
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