Defendant-Homeowner’s Providing Plaintiff With a Ladder With Allegedly Worn Rubber Feet Raised a Question of Fact About Defendant’s Liability for the Ladder’s Slipping and Plaintiff’s Fall—Cause of Accident Can Be Proven by Circumstantial Evidence
The Second Department determined Supreme Court should not have granted summary judgment to the defendant homeowner. Plaintiff was using defendant’s ladder when the ladder slipped and plaintiff fell. Plaintiff alleged the rubber feet on the ladder were totally destroyed. That allegation created a question of fact whether defendant provided dangerous or defective equipment to the plaintiff which caused plaintiff’s injury. In response to defendant’s argument that plaintiff could not explain the cause of the accident without resort to speculation, the court noted that the cause of an accident can be proven by circumstantial evidence (here the condition of the feet of the ladder and fact that the feet slipped):
“[W]hen a defendant property owner lends allegedly dangerous or defective equipment to a worker that causes injury during its use, the defendant moving for summary judgment must establish that it neither created the alleged danger or defect in the instrumentality nor had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous or defective condition” … . While lack of constructive notice can generally be established by evidence demonstrating when the area or condition was last inspected relative to the time of the accident …, the absence of rubber shoes on a ladder is a “visible and apparent defect,” evidence of which may be sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact on the issue of constructive notice … . Here, the defendants satisfied their prima facie burden with evidence that the ladder had been inspected prior to the accident. The defendant Billis Arniotis (hereinafter Billis) testified that, since purchasing the ladder 20 years before the accident, he had used it once per week and had inspected its rubber feet each time. Billis last inspected the ladder one or two weeks before the accident and did not observe any wear at that time. However, the plaintiff testified that he inspected the ladder after the accident and found that its rubber feet were “totally eaten up, worn,” and “destroyed.” This conflicting evidence, coupled with Billis’s testimony that the ladder had not been used between the time of the accident and the plaintiff’s inspection, raised a triable issue of fact.
Contrary to the defendants’ contention, they failed to make a prima facie showing that the plaintiff cannot identify the cause of his fall without engaging in speculation. A plaintiff’s inability to testify exactly as to how an accident occurred does not require dismissal where negligence and causation can be established with circumstantial evidence … . Here, Billis’s testimony establishes that he was present at the time of the accident and that he watched the ladder slide down while the plaintiff was on it. Evidence that the ladder’s rubber feet were worn down also is sufficient to permit the inference that this defective condition caused the slippage … . Patrikis v Arniotis, 2015 NY Slip Op 05167, 2nd Dept 6-17-15