Espinal v. Melville Contrs.

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtROSENBLATT, J.
Citation773 N.E.2d 485,746 N.Y.S.2d 120,98 N.Y.2d 136
Decision Date04 June 2002
PartiesVIOLETA ESPINAL, Appellant, v. MELVILLE SNOW CONTRACTORS, INC., Respondent.

98 N.Y.2d 136
773 N.E.2d 485
746 N.Y.S.2d 120

VIOLETA ESPINAL, Appellant,
v.
MELVILLE SNOW CONTRACTORS, INC., Respondent

Court of Appeals of the State of New York.

Argued April 23, 2002.

Decided June 4, 2002.


98 N.Y.2d 137
Thomas Torto, New York City, for appellant

Mauro Goldberg & Lilling LLP, Great Neck (Christopher Simone, Caryn L. Lilling and Matthew Naparty of counsel), and Law Office of Ted M. Tobias for respondent.

Chief Judge KAYE and Judges SMITH, LEVINE, CIPARICK, WESLEY and GRAFFEO concur.

OPINION OF THE COURT

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

98 N.Y.2d 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 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.) We now affirm the order of the Appellate Division, but on different grounds.

Because a finding of negligence must be based on the breach 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 [2001]; Pulka v Edelman, 40 NY2d 781, 782 [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 NY2d 579, 585-586 [1994]; Eaves Brooks Costume Co. v Y.B.H. Realty Corp., 76 NY2d 220, 226-227 [1990]).

Under our decisional law a contractual obligation, standing alone, will generally not give rise to tort liability in favor of a third party (see Eaves Brooks, 76 NY2d at 226). Seventy-four years ago, in H.R. Moch Co. v Rensselaer Water Co. (247 NY

98 N.Y.2d 139
160 [1928]), Chief Judge Cardozo stated that imposing liability under such circumstances could render the contracting parties liable in tort to "an indefinite number of potential beneficiaries" (id. at 168). As a matter of policy, we have generally declined to impose liability to that degree. On the other hand, we have recognized that under some circumstances, a party who enters into a contract thereby assumes a duty of care to certain persons outside the contract (see Palka, 83 NY2d at 586; Strauss v Belle Realty Co., 65 NY2d 399, 402 [1985]). Having rejected the concept of open-ended tort liability, while recognizing that liability to third persons may sometimes be appropriate, we must determine where to draw the line (see De Angelis v Lutheran Med. Ctr., 58 NY2d 1053, 1055 [1983]). Although the "policy-laden" nature of the existence and scope of a duty generally precludes any bright-line rules (Palka, 83 NY2d at 585), three cases help light the way

Moch, Eaves Brooks and Palka identify contractual situations involving possible tort liability to third persons. Our analysis begins with Moch. There, the defendant entered into a contract with the City of Rensselaer to supply water to the City for various purposes, including water at the appropriate pressure for fire hydrants. A building caught fire and, because the defendant allegedly failed to supply sufficient water pressure to the hydrants, the fire spread and destroyed the plaintiff's warehouse. Although the contract was valid and enforceable as between the City and the defendant, we concluded that the contract was not intended to make the defendant answerable to anyone who might be harmed as a result of the defendant's alleged breach. Because the plaintiff company was not a third-party beneficiary, it could not sue for breach of contract. Nor, we held, could the plaintiff...

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909 practice notes
  • Appel v. Schoeman Updike Kaufman Stern & Ascher L. L.P., 14-cv-2065 (AJN)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • March 26, 2015
    ...the performance thereof." Fernandez v. Otis Elevator Co., 772 N.Y.S.2d 14, 17 (App. Div. 2004) (citing Espinal v. Melville Snow Contrs., 773 N.E.2d 485 (N.Y. 2002)). These circumstances include:(1) where the contracting party, in failing to exercise reasonable care in the execution of the c......
  • Landon v. Kroll Lab. Specialists, Inc.
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • November 22, 2011
    ...( Palka v. Servicemaster Mgt. Servs. Corp., 83 N.Y.2d 579, 585, 611 N.Y.S.2d 817, 634 N.E.2d 189; see Espinal v. Melville Snow Contrs., 98 N.Y.2d 136, 138, 746 N.Y.S.2d 120, 773 N.E.2d 485; Lauer v. City of New York, 95 N.Y.2d at 100, 711 N.Y.S.2d 112, 733 N.E.2d 184). “[D]uty is not someth......
  • Breitkopf v. Metro. Transp. Auth. Police Officer Glenn Gentile, No. 12–CV–1084 (JFB)(AKT).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • August 29, 2014
    ...claim arising from the same allegedly wrongful conduct underlying a contract claim.30 Palka and Espinal v. Melville Snow Contractors, 98 N.Y.2d 136, 746 N.Y.S.2d 120, 773 N.E.2d 485 (2002), support this conclusion. In Espinal, the Court of Appeals considered whether a duty of care ran from ......
  • In re World Trade Ctr. Lower Manhattan Disaster Site Litig., Nos. 09 CV 680AKH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • September 9, 2014
    ...standing alone, will generally not give rise to tort liability in favor of a third party.” Espinal v. Melville Snow Contractors, 98 N.Y.2d 136, 138, 746 N.Y.S.2d 120, 773 N.E.2d 485 (2002). To allow otherwise, would render contracting parties liable “to an indefinite number of potential ben......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
907 cases
  • Appel v. Schoeman Updike Kaufman Stern & Ascher L. L.P., 14-cv-2065 (AJN)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • March 26, 2015
    ...the performance thereof." Fernandez v. Otis Elevator Co., 772 N.Y.S.2d 14, 17 (App. Div. 2004) (citing Espinal v. Melville Snow Contrs., 773 N.E.2d 485 (N.Y. 2002)). These circumstances include:(1) where the contracting party, in failing to exercise reasonable care in the execution of the c......
  • Landon v. Kroll Lab. Specialists, Inc.
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • November 22, 2011
    ...( Palka v. Servicemaster Mgt. Servs. Corp., 83 N.Y.2d 579, 585, 611 N.Y.S.2d 817, 634 N.E.2d 189; see Espinal v. Melville Snow Contrs., 98 N.Y.2d 136, 138, 746 N.Y.S.2d 120, 773 N.E.2d 485; Lauer v. City of New York, 95 N.Y.2d at 100, 711 N.Y.S.2d 112, 733 N.E.2d 184). “[D]uty is not someth......
  • Breitkopf v. Metro. Transp. Auth. Police Officer Glenn Gentile, No. 12–CV–1084 (JFB)(AKT).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • August 29, 2014
    ...claim arising from the same allegedly wrongful conduct underlying a contract claim.30 Palka and Espinal v. Melville Snow Contractors, 98 N.Y.2d 136, 746 N.Y.S.2d 120, 773 N.E.2d 485 (2002), support this conclusion. In Espinal, the Court of Appeals considered whether a duty of care ran from ......
  • In re World Trade Ctr. Lower Manhattan Disaster Site Litig., Nos. 09 CV 680AKH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • September 9, 2014
    ...standing alone, will generally not give rise to tort liability in favor of a third party.” Espinal v. Melville Snow Contractors, 98 N.Y.2d 136, 138, 746 N.Y.S.2d 120, 773 N.E.2d 485 (2002). To allow otherwise, would render contracting parties liable “to an indefinite number of potential ben......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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