I want to tell a story about an interesting criminal case that once came through our doors at the public defender’s office when I worked in New York. A young man had been charged with drug possession, but he had no money for a lawyer. Like all the clients we see, he came to us because he had the right to a public defender under the law.

As the young man was receiving representation for his drug possession case, he unexpectedly slipped and fell on a loose floorboard at the courthouse. What’s interesting is I knew this loose floorboard was there. In fact, I had reported it once before because it was a safety hazard. For some reason, the government had not gotten around to fixing it. 

On the day of his court date, the young man didn’t notice the loose floorboard as he walked into the building and he fell—hard. He fractured his wrist and hit his head on the tile floor, which led to a serious concussion. The ambulance took him to the hospital for observation and his court case was put on hold until further notice.

Premises Liability Against the Government

It’s often hard to file a premises liability lawsuit against a government entity because most times, the government has sovereign immunity. This case, however, worked similarly to other premises liability cases. It was clear that the courthouse had been negligent in repairing the loose floorboard that led to the young man’s injury. When I heard about the accident, I knew my complaints would play a role. 

The young man hired a NYC personal injury lawyer who performed a thorough investigation on the property and used video footage as well as photographs to prove that the floorboard had remained unrepaired for a significant amount of time and other visitors had tripped on it in the past.

Winning the Case

Although the young man had to proceed with his drug possession case once he recovered from his slip-and-fall injuries, he also was successful in winning a settlement for his civil case. The courthouse staff couldn’t argue with the prosecution because their negligence was blatant. Although I played no part in the civil case, I thought it was interesting to watch this story play out. 

Most criminal cases don’t transition so quickly to civil cases, but this young man had a whirlwind of a year to say the least.

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