Who is responsible for an accident due to a fall from ice on a sidewalk? Who is liable for a trip and fall from a cracked and broken sidewalk?

The answer depends upon where the accident took place. For example, an accident in Yonkers will carry a different answer than an accident in Bronx. We shall focus on New York City.

In New York City, as a general rule, the owner of the adjoining premises is liable for dangerous conditions, such as snow, ice, debris, and a broken and cracked sidewalk. However, there are exceptions to the rule to protect private homeowners. In those instances, the City is liable. The question as to whether the adjoining owner or the City is liable depends upon the facts.

For example:

  • If the building is either a one-, two-, or three-family residence used strictly as a residence and where the owner resides in one of the units, then the owner will not be liable. The City will be liable for the sidewalk condition (e.g., snow, ice, debris, etc.).
  • If the building has any non-residential purpose, such as a school or business, then the adjoining owner will be liable for the sidewalk conditions.

These rules are best shown in examples:

  • A two family home where the owner occupies one of the units. It is solely used as a residential building. The City would be liable. This is less than a three-family home which is owner occupied.
  • A small apartment house of five units. The owner would be liable because it is greater than a three-family home.
  • The building is a private home. However, the owner, a dentist, has his dental practice in an office on the ground floor. In this instance the owner would be liable because the property has a business.
  • The office building at 111 Broadway. The owner is liable. It is a commercial structure.
  • A three story building on Church Avenue in Brooklyn. There is a bakery on the street level with two apartments upstairs. The owner lives in one of the apartments. The owner is liable in that the building has a commercial use.
  • On the sidewalk in front of the US Courthouse on Foley Square. In this case the adjoining owner, the US Government, is liable.
  • A three-family private home with an illegal basement apartment with a total of four living units. The owner should be liable in that this is greater than a three-family home.
Cities and towns outside New York City have entirely different rules. Some cities make the owner liable while others make the municipality liable.
In cases where New York City would be liable rather than the private owner, a notice of claim must be filed with the Comptroller within 90 days of the accident. Therefore, we urge that an attorney be contacted shortly after an accident to ascertain the correct defendant in the case.