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Espinal v. Melville Snow Contrs.

Court of Appeals of New York

April 23, 2002, Argued ; June 4, 2002, Decided

No. 63

Opinion

 [**486]   [*137]   [***121]  Rosenblatt, J.

Plaintiff has brought this personal injury action against defendant, a company that entered into a snow removal contract with a property owner. We are called upon to determine whether the company may be held liable to plaintiff for injuries she sustained when she slipped and fell on the premises. To  [*138]  decide this appeal, we must determine whether a contractor of this type owes a duty to a third person, such as plaintiff.

On January 28, 1994 plaintiff slipped and fell in a parking lot owned by her employer, Miltope Corporation. Attributing her fall to an "icy condition," plaintiff sued Melville Snow Contractors, the company under contract to plow and remove snow from the premises. 1 She alleged that Melville created the icy condition by negligently removing snow from the parking lot. Melville moved for summary judgment, contending [****2]  that it owed no duty of care to plaintiff.

Supreme Court denied the motion, concluding that Melville had failed to show that "there was a reasonable explanation for the existence of the ice … other than a failure on its part to remove snow and ice in a non-negligent manner." The Appellate Division reversed, granted Melville's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the complaint. The Court held that Melville owed plaintiff no duty of care. Important for purposes of this appeal, the Court also held that plaintiff's "allegation that [Melville] created or exacerbated the hazardous condition did not provide a basis for liability." (283 AD2d 546, 547, 724 N.Y.S.2d 893.) We now affirm the order [***122]   [**487]  of the Appellate Division, but on different grounds.

] Because a finding of negligence must be based on the breach [****3]  of a duty, a threshold question in tort cases is whether the alleged tortfeasor owed a duty of care to the injured party (see Darby v Compagnie Natl. Air France, 96 NY2d 343, 347, 753 N.E.2d 160 [2001]; Pulka v Edelman, 40 NY2d 781, 782, 358 N.E.2d 1019, 390 N.Y.S.2d 393 [1976]). Here, the issue is whether any such duty ran from Melville to plaintiff, given that Melville's snow removal contract was with the property owner. As we have often said, ] the existence and scope of a duty is a question of law requiring courts to balance sometimes competing public policy considerations (see e.g. Palka v Servicemaster Mgt. Servs. Corp., 83 N.Y.2d 579, 585-586, 611 N.Y.S.2d 817, 634 N.E.2d 189 [1994]; Eaves Brooks Costume Co. v Y.B.H. Realty Corp., 76 N.Y.2d 220, 226-227, 557 N.Y.S.2d 286, 556 N.E.2d 1093 [1990]).

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98 N.Y.2d 136 *; 773 N.E.2d 485 **; 746 N.Y.S.2d 120 ***; 2002 N.Y. LEXIS 1501 ****

Violeta Espinal, Appellant, v. Melville Snow Contractors, Inc., Respondent.

Subsequent History:  [****1]  As Corrected August 9, 2002.

Prior History: Appeal, by permission of the Court of Appeals, from an order of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Second Judicial Department, entered May 21, 2001, which (1) reversed, insofar as appealed from, on the law, so much of an order of the Supreme Court (Gerard D'Emilio, J.), entered in Suffolk County, as denied a motion by defendant for summary judgment dismissing the complaint, (2) granted the motion, and (3) dismissed the complaint.

 Espinal v. Melville Snow Contrs., Inc., 283 A.D.2d 546, 724 N.Y.S.2d 893, 2001 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5340 (2d Dep't 2001), affirmed. .

Disposition: Order affirmed, with costs.

CORE TERMS

snow, plow, exacerbated, launched, premises, contractual obligation, snow removal, third person, contractor, tort liability, icy

Torts, Elements, Duty, General Overview, Civil Procedure, Justiciability, Standing, Third Party Standing, Contracts Law, Third Parties, Beneficiaries, Real Property Law, Torts, Business & Corporate Compliance, Contract Formation, Consideration, Detrimental Reliance, Enforcement of Promises, Types of Damages, Property Damages