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Premises Liability – Inadequate Lighting – Plaintiff contends pitch dark condition in stairwell between first and ground floors causes him to fall five steps as he is descending – Left shin trauma allegedly causes cellulitis that spreads to entire leg.

Erie County, NY

The 38-year-old plaintiff, who had visited his friend, who was a tenant in the defendant’s building, contended that the light on the first floor landing was out, resulting in a pitch dark condition. The plaintiff related that he arrived before dark approximately three hours earlier, and walked up the stairwell without incident. The plaintiff maintained that because of the darkness, he missed a step as he was descending, resulting in his falling five steps. The Court held that under Sec. 37 of the Multiple Dwelling law, that the defendant had the burden to establish that it had no notice that the light in the stairwell was not functioning.

The superintendent testified that he conducts a daily walk through to ascertain, among other things, if any stairwell bulbs are out. The superintendent indicated that to the best of his recollection he found no lights out and if he did, he would remedy the condition immediately. The defendant also elicited testimony from the plaintiff on cross-examination that he did not grasp the handrail despite the absence of lighting.

The plaintiff contended that he suffered a trauma to the shin that resulted in cellulitis that spread to the remainder of the left leg. The plaintiff’s infectious disease specialist maintained that it was likely that the trauma caused a bruise that obstructed the lymphatic system which in turn caused a pooling of toxins that fostered the infection. The plaintiff maintained that despite antibiotic therapy, he will permanently suffer extensive pain and difficulties.

The defendant’s infectious disease specialist maintained that although the initial episode of cellulitis was probably related to the incident, the subsequent bouts were probably related to alternative causes, such as obesity of the plaintiff, who weighed approximately ________ pounds at the time of the incident, smoking and/or venous insufficiency.The jury found that the premises were in a reasonably safe condition, and a defense verdict was entered.

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