Contrary to popular belief, property owners or their managing agents are not only liable for structural defects on the stairways of their buildings; under certain circumstances, they can also be held liable in negligence if the stairs are poorly lit.
This hearkens back to the general rule that "[T]he owner or possessor of a property has a duty to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition and may be held liable for injuries arising from a dangerous condition on the property if such owner or possessor either created the condition, or has actual or constructive notice of it and a reasonable time within which to remedy it." Freidah v. Hamlet Golf and Country Club, 272 AD2d 572, 573 (2nd Dept 2000).
So how do you prove that a stairway was inadequately lit?
A decision that appeared in today's New York Law Journal provides the answer: through first-hand eyewitness testimony and expert opinion.
In Kleiman v. Craftsteak NYC, LLC, the plaintiff fell down an internal stairwell at the defendant's premises. In denying the defendant's motion seeking to dismiss the case on the grounds that they had no notice of any defective condition, the New York County trial court found that the testimony of non-parties attesting to the dark and poorly lit conditions in the stairwell, as well as the plaintiff's Board Certified safety expert (who inspected the subject stairwell) opinion that "the lack of demarcation between the landing and the first step, as well as the lack of lighting on the first step, violated New York City building codes and that these violations proximately caused [the plaintiff's] injuries by creating a misleading and dangerous visual cue" were sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the defendant knew, or should have known, about this dangerous condition (or, in legalese, had "constructive notice" of the defective condition).