Hinton v Village of Pulaski
Edited by Lawrence N. Rogak
The Court of Appeals rules here that an exterior public stairway which connects a sidewalk with a municipal parking lot is the equivalent of a sidewalk, and therefore the municipality that owns it must have prior written notice of a defect as a condition precedent to liability for injuries.--LNR
* The Village of Pulaski is a town of a few thousand people in Oswego County, NY, about ten minutes' drive from Lake Ontario. This is fishing country, and the heart of this fishing county is Salmon River. "Unique in the Northeast, the Salmon River is an angler's mecca. Thousands of trophy Chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, rainbows and brown trout, driven the by urge to spawn, run its length each year. Twelve miles of classic riffs, pools, and runs are accessible to those who would test its waters with rod and reel" (Oswego County Tourism, Visit Oswego County, New York: Where to Fish).
Locals will tell you the one of the best fishing spots on the Salmon River is the "Black Hole," on the west end of Pulaski. The south bank is part of a salmon run, but the north bank is public. At the peak of the season, hundreds of anglers ply the waters at the Black Hole. The throng regularly blocked the streets, so the Village installed signage directing anglers to park in an adjacent car park normally used by the Village Department of Public Works. From there, anglers must walk down a stairway, cross Riverview Drive, and walk further down the undeveloped bank before they reach the Black Hole. That stairway is the subject of this appeal. It is a "railway tie" stairway, made of compacted earth nosed with recycled railway ties, many of which still include the rusted nails they once had. The stairs are steep, irregularly spaced, with the space between the nosings made of grasses and muddy strands with potholes and muddy clumps (which were exacerbated due to a recent heavy rain). The railings were rickety and wooden, and at a low height; there was also less railing on one side than the other. The stairway was built by the Village.
Mr. Hinton, the plaintiff in this case, is a licensed fishing guide and owns a fishing lodge. He makes his living renting out rooms to anglers and taking them fishing. On October 19, 2013, at the height of the season, finding his schedule unexpectedly free, he decided to spend the afternoon fishing without clients. Although Mr. Hinton preferred less congested spots, he decided to give...