The Second Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined that, although the lease did not unambiguously insulate the out-of-possession landlord from liability for plaintiff’s fall through an open trap door in a deli, the landlord demonstrated it did not have actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition. Apparently plaintiff walked over the closed trap door but then stepped back and fell through the open door:
… [T]he owner failed to demonstrate, prima facie, that it was an out-of-possession landlord that did not have a contractual duty under the lease to maintain and repair the subject trapdoor … . “‘[W]hile the meaning of a contract is ordinarily a question of law, when a term or clause is ambiguous and the determination of the parties’ intent depends upon the credibility of extrinsic evidence or a choice among inferences to be drawn from extrinsic evidence, then the issue is one of fact'” … . Although paragraph 46 of the rider to the lease effectively limits the owner’s responsibility to “structural portions” of the deli, that phrase is only partially described in the lease, and is not so clear and unambiguous as to be subject only to the interpretation that it excludes the trapdoor … .
However, the owner established, prima facie, that it did not create the allegedly dangerous condition or have actual or constructive notice of its existence … . At his deposition, the plaintiff testified that he walked over the trapdoor, and then “seconds” later when he stepped back, he fell through a hole caused by the open trapdoor. Accordingly, even though the owner did not present evidence of the last time it inspected the trapdoor, the plaintiff’s testimony establishes lack of constructive notice as a matter of law … . In opposition, the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact. Although the owner’s representative testified at his deposition that he was aware of the existence and location of the trapdoor and went into the deli once a month to collect rent, a general awareness that customers could fall through an open trapdoor in the aisle of the deli is legally insufficient to constitute constructive notice of the particular condition that caused the plaintiff’s accident … . Vaughan v Triumphant Church of Jesus Christ, 2021 NY Slip Op 02560, Second Dept 4-28-21