Gordon v. American Museum of Natural History (N.Y. 1986)

Procedural History: Case submitted to jury under the theory that defendant had either actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition presented by the wax paper on the steps. Jury found against defendant on issue of liability. Appellate Division affirmed and granted defendant leave to appeal on a certified question.

Facts: Defendant slipped on the front entrance steps of the American Museum of Natural History. There was a piece of wax paper on the ground near his foot, which he assumed came from the concession stand that defendant had contracted to have present and which was located on the plaza separating two tiers of steps.

Issue: Is the fact that an injury occurred proof of constructive notice?

Rules: In situations of negligence in inspecting a business and having a customer slip and fall, if the injury occurred a reasonable time after the occurrence of a spill or other fault, then the defendant should be liable for damages.

Application: It is impossible to tell based on the evidence when the wax paper fell and therefore if the defendant had any liability. In this case, it cannot be determined and the court should rule in the favor of the defendant if the plaintiff cannot overcome the burden of persuasion.

Conclusion: Constructive notice must ordinarily be given for a defendant to be liable in a slip and fall lawsuit.

Definitions: Constructive notice – legally imputed notice, existing by virtue of legal fiction through not existing in fact. Legal fiction that signifies that a personal or entity should have known, as a reasonable person would have, even if they have no actual knowledge of it.

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