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When You Don't Need to be a Party to a Contract to Recover Under New York Law

 

Let's start with the general rule: a contractor does not owe a duty of care to a noncontracting third party.

This rule is logical; generally speaking, no one should be able to be held accountable for a breach of contract other than by the one with whom they entered into the agreement.

That said, New York's courts have set forth three (3) important exceptions to this rule:

(1) "where the promisor, while engaged affirmatively in discharging a contractual obligation, creates an unreasonable risk of harm to others, or increases that risk" (Church v Callanan Indus., 99 NY2d 104, 111 [2002]);

(2) where the plaintiff suffers injury as a result of reasonable reliance on the defendant's continued performance of a contractual obligation; and,

(3) "where the contracting party has entirely displaced the other party's duty to maintain the premises safely" (id. at 112, quoting Espinal v Melville Snow Contrs., 98 NY2d 136, 140 [2002]).

 

It is interesting to note that although these exceptions are dealing-with breach of contract, they all circumvent the general rule because they are related to the world of personal injury and negligence. Indeed, one of the seminal cases on this issue was Espinal, which arose out of a snow removal contractor's liability to a third party, i.e., the plaintiff, who suffered injuries at the defendant's premises.