Premises Liability: Can You Prove It?

If you are hurt by an accident on someone else’s property, can you hold the land owner legally and financially responsible for your injuries? The question concerns an area of law called premises liability . The answer depends on whether you can meet these requirements:

  • You were lawfully on the property.
  • Your accident was caused by an unsafe condition.
  • The land owner was negligent in that he knew or should have known of the unsafe condition but failed to correct it or warn of it.
  • The land owner’s negligence resulted in your injury.

The Land Owner’s Responsibility

Property owners owe a reasonable duty of care to those who are invited or otherwise allowed to be on the premises. A land owner must maintain the property to avoid the risk of injury to those who use it. If the owner is aware of a dangerous condition he must repair it or erect signs, guards or barriers to warn of it. The fact that an accident occurs does not, in and of itself, mean that the property owner is liable for negligence. You must be able to show that the land owner knew or should have known that a dangerous condition existed.

There are two ways you can prove a land owner’s knowledge. Actual notice means that the land owner was told about the problem. Constructive notice means that the hazard was visible and apparent and existed long enough for the property owner to observe it and repair it. For example, if you hurt yourself by slipping and falling on a beer bottle in a stairwell, the land owner is not liable for your injury unless you can show that he knew that particular bottle was there. On the other hand, if the land owner knew that beer bottles tend to accumulate on the stairwell during weekends, he might be held liable for accidents and injuries that result.

Hazardous Conditions

Unsafe conditions on property occur in an endless variety of ways. The can injure repairmen as well as guests, tenants and shoppers at commercial establishments. A leaking ceiling may create slippery floor conditions and a risk of falling. A glass partition may be inadequately marked and dangerous to those who fail to see it while walking. Crumbling brick work and masonry on a building’s exterior may fall and injure workers and pedestrians below. Stairways can be especially risky due to

  • Broken or missing hand rails.
  • Steps that are too high or too steep.
  • Unevenness in step height or depth.
  • Worn or torn carpeting on stairs.
  • Slippery or icy conditions due to spills or weather.
  • Construction or maintenance defects that violate local building codes.

The Firefighter’s Rule

At times, firefighters, police officers or other emergency services personnel are injured due to unsafe conditions on property. In the past, they were unable to seek damages for their injuries under ordinary negligence rules. This is because, under the so-called ‘firefighter’s defense’ these workers were held to be specially trained to confront risks and dangers on behalf of the public. In addition, they were provided with job benefits and compensation in the form of sick leave and line-of-duty injury status.

Since the late 1990s, however, the law has changed. Generally, there is no longer any firefighter’s defense in lawsuits against private property owners. The rule may still apply in actions against municipalities and their agencies.

Ask A Competent Attorney

Injuries due to unsafe, defective or poorly maintained property conditions are unfortunate daily occurrences. It is not always easy to prove that a land owner is negligent and therefore liable for an injury. The attorneys at the Orlow firm are experienced and knowledgeable in this area of the law. They offer free initial consultations and operate four offices across New York City for your convenience. They can go to you if you cannot come to them. To contact the Orlow firm, call (646) 647-3398.

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Dangerous Dogs: Does the Landlord Pay for Damages?

There are more than 1.5 million dogs in the city of New York. Many of them live in apartment buildings where, most likely, they will come into daily contact with other tenants. Dog bites happen rarely, but often enough that some landlords refuse to rent to dog-owner households. These landlords worry that they, as well as the dog’s owner, will be responsible for damages if the dog causes injury to another person in the building. Holding a property owner responsible for injuries caused by a tenant’s dog is a form of premises liability .

When Is the Landlord Liable?

Landlords may be held responsible for injuries caused by a tenant’s dog, but only under certain conditions. Merely leasing property to a tenant with a dog does not, in and of itself, expose the landlord to liability. For example, if the tenant’s dog appears friendly but ends up biting someone, the landlord is not responsible for the resulting injury. To succeed in a lawsuit against a landlord for injuries caused by a tenant’s dog you would have to show

  • That the landlord knew the dog was dangerous and was legally able to make the tenant get rid of the dog or move out; or
  • That the landlord “harbored” or “kept” the tenant’s dog by caring for it or by exercising some control over it.

A landlord who knows only that a tenant’s dog is kept tied up and barks at passersby does not necessarily know that the dog is dangerous and will not be held liable for injuries caused by the dog. To prove liability, you have to show that the landlord had actual knowledge that the dog was dangerous and that it had already threatened or injured someone.

In one case, a landlord was caring for the dogs of a prospective tenant when they threatened his own grandchild. In spite of this, the landlord rented to the tenants and the dogs severely injured another child. The court held that the landlord had created a clear risk of injury by renting to the tenants and was therefore liable for damages. In another case, a six year-old girl living in a trailer park was seriously mauled by her neighbor’s two dogs. The jury found that the owners of the mobile home park had shown a blatant disregard for the safety of their tenants and awarded punitive damages on top of compensatory damages for the child’s injuries.

Ask an Experienced Attorney

A landlord or property owner who ignores obvious signs that a tenant’s dog is dangerous does so at his own risk. If the dog hurts another tenant, the landlord or property owner should be held accountable for his failure to take action. If you or a loved one has been injured by a tenant’s dog, seek medical attention immediately and consult a knowledgeable attorney. The attorneys at the Orlow firm are highly experienced in personal injury law. They offer free initial consultations and operate four offices across New York City for your convenience. They can go to you if you cannot come to them. To contact the Orlow firm, call (646) 647-3398.

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Elevators and Escalators: Are They Safe?

Elevators in the U.S. make 18 billion passenger trips annually. Deaths due to elevator accidents average about 30 per year while the annual injury rate is estimated at 17,000. Though deaths and injuries are higher among workers who maintain and install elevators, passengers are generally safer on elevators than they might be if they were taking the stairs instead. When elevator accidents do occur, however, they can be quite shocking, distressing and frightening.

Recent Incidents

  • In 2011, a New York City advertising executive was killed while stepping into an elevator. The car suddenly shot upward with its doors still open. When the swift motion caused the victim’s knees to buckle, she fell forward into the shaft and was trapped between two floors. A subsequent investigation revealed that maintenance workers had bypassed the door safety circuit by using a jumper wire while servicing the elevator. A simple precaution like placing yellow caution tape across the elevator door jamb would have prevented the tragedy.
  • In April, 2013, a Florida hotel worker was cleaning out the bottom of an elevator shaft when a 3,500 pound elevator car came plunging down the shaft and crushed him. Investigators suspect that, due to a violation of the “Lockout/Tagout” procedure, main power to the elevator had not been completely turned off. Proper procedure requires that a person physically shut off power to the elevator and place a lock on the power lever. Only the person holding the key to the lock can restore power.
  • Other high profile recent elevator accidents involved a Cal State Long Beach student and a 5 year-old Brooklyn boy, both crushed to death when they tried to escape a stalled elevator. In 2011, 22 workers were injured in a New York City Bed, Bath and Beyond freight elevator. When cables supporting the elevator snapped, the car dropped three floors to the ground. The brake mechanism was defective and failed to stop the car. The elevator defect caused its occupants to suffer neck and back injuries.

Common Underlying Causes of Elevator Accidents

According to Consumer Watch, elevator accidents are usually caused by one or more malfunctions. The list may include:

  • Pulley system malfunctions causing an elevator to drop rapidly within the shaft.
  • Defective doors that allow passengers to fall into an open shaft.
  • Inadequate or incompetent repair, maintenance or inspection.
  • Electrocution caused by faulty wiring or elevator control malfunction.
  • Entrapment or wiring malfunction caused by heat from fire or water from emergency sprinklers or hoses.

Escalators

Escalators may be even safer than elevators, although children and senior citizens are more likely than others to suffer injury. A 2008 study covering 14 years’ worth of data found 40,000 escalator-related injuries among older people, but no deaths. Children experience about 2.6 escalator injuries per 100,000, although the rate is nearly twice as high among children less than 5 years of age. No fatalities have been reported. Serious injuries may involve amputations or the tearing away of body parts (avulsions). Among the general population, accidents most often result from tripping or being pushed while walking on an escalator or falling while trying to step on or off the escalator.

If you or a loved one has been hurt in an elevator or escalator accident, contact the attorneys at the Orlow firm for a knowledgeable determination as to whether legal action is warranted.

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Elevators: Keeping Them Safe

Today, there are about 60,000 elevators operating in New York City’s five boroughs, some of them making hundreds of trips a day. The average life span of an elevator is about 20 to 30 years before it begins to require major equipment upgrades. To a building owner, an elevator is one of the most expensive items he or she can own, and potentially the most dangerous. Elevators are generally safe and reliable, but preventing elevator accidents and injuries requires diligent inspections and proper maintenance.

Who is Responsible for Elevator Safety?

In New York City, co-op boards, building owners and building administrators have primary responsibility for keeping elevators safe and functional. When an elevator is found to contain a design defect, the manufacturer is not required to notify anyone other than the owner of the equipment. Therefore, the general public and the media might not be aware of faulty elevator machinery until it causes injury or death. Those in charge of ensuring that elevators are inspected on schedule and properly maintained have an enormous responsibility to the people who use them.

Are There Safety Standards for Elevators?

In general, elevators are kept extremely safe through strict inspection and maintenance requirements. Unfortunately, the codes that apply are not always uniform and may vary significantly from place to place. In addition, elevators installed before or after a certain date may have different safety features depending on which code was in effect at the time.

For example, elevators installed in 2000 or later are required to have safety features such as detectors for unintentional car movement when elevator doors are open, brake, gear and hydraulic system monitors that will automatically stop a car when there is a problem, and a secondary emergency brake that is activated when unintended movement of the elevator car is detected. Elevators whose installations predate these safety codes are still required to have door restrictors that prevent the car from operating when passengers are inside and the doors are not in a closed position.

Standard for Elevator Mechanics and Inspectors

New York City has one of the country’s most stringent elevator inspection codes. Only a certified elevator inspector is able to truly assess whether the equipment is safe for all passengers. Even so, a thorough analysis of elevator components goes well beyond the annual inspection that is required in order to renew a certificate. Therefore, an up-to-date inspection certificate does not necessarily guarantee that all elevator machinery has been thoroughly and professionally examined. And, while elevator inspectors must be certified, New York City’s 7,000 elevator mechanics need only show that they are healthy and fit enough to carry out their jobs.

In April, 2012 a bill was introduced in the City Council to mandate rigorous training and licensing of elevator mechanics. Citing three recent elevator accidents that had resulted in death and injury, as well as the electrocution of an elevator technician, Council members insisted that, if plumbers and electricians need to be licensed, elevator mechanics should be licensed as well. A second bill aims to increase elevator safety by requiring residential elevators to be equipped with a mechanism that would protect passengers in the event of an elevator car’s sudden acceleration.

The licensing measure will help building owners and administrators to be more effective in their hiring of qualified elevator maintenance and repair personnel. Further, since elevator maintenance workers account for almost half of all annual elevator fatalities, it is hoped that improved training and licensing will help keep them safe as well.

Elevator safety codes can be complicated and require the analysis of a legal expert. If you or a loved one has been injured due to faulty elevator maintenance or an elevator defect, the attorneys at the Orlow firm can provide you with a knowledgeable determination as to your possible legal remedies.

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Elevators and New York City Housing: A Dangerous Combination?

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) runs one of the largest and busiest elevator fleets in the area. Its 340 public housing complexes serving poor and moderate-income families contain 3,338 elevators in 2,618 buildings. At 3.1 million trips a day, these elevators make 1.2 billion trips each year. In light of such heavy traffic, rates of elevator accident and injury are quite low. In fact, the likelihood of getting hurt in a city housing elevator is just one in 34 million trips.

Accidents Do Happen

In spite of NYCHA’s generally good elevator safety record, about 300 residents, employees and visitors have reported elevator-related injuries from 2001 to 2009. Those who received only minor bumps and bruises did not seek medical attention. But more than 170 people received treatment at hospitals, private doctors, or from paramedics and firefighters at the scene. Elevator accidents most often result in injuries to heads, backs, arms, legs, feet and knees.

Some Injuries Are More Serious

The most horrific recent NYCHA elevator accident resulted in a fatality. In 2009, a 5 year-old Brooklyn boy plunged 10 stories to his death while trying to climb out of a stalled elevator. In 2008, a 23 year-old home health aide en route to visit a patient was stranded in a stalled elevator when the outer door failed to close completely. As she grabbed the edge of the door to pull it closed, her middle finger became caught in the door frame as the door slammed into her hand. The door’s swift and forceful motion sliced off the top of her finger above the end joint. In a different incident, a firefighter trying to remove passengers from a stalled elevator lost part of his finger as well. Other serious injuries included swelling to the head and hands, a broken nose, and two amputated toes.

Hazardous Doors

The great majority of NYCHA elevator complaints concern inner and outer doors than close too rapidly and with too much force. Residents have had to push young children out of the path of fast-closing elevator doors to avoid serious harm. Still, an infant was rushed to the hospital after being struck by a door and a young boy required surgery to repair an injured hand. Other residents have suffered cuts to hands and wrists as well as bruising on their forearms. In many cases, door timers are defective and need to be replaced.

It’s Not Just Injury

Malfunctioning elevators tax the daily lives of city housing residents both physically and psychologically. Many suffer inconveniences like missed school buses and medical appointments and are often forced to climb flights of stairs. This effort takes an especially difficult toll on the elderly and the disabled.

The City is Responsible

From 2001 to 2007, the NYCHA paid $3.5 million in judgments and settlements arising from elevator-related injuries. The biggest payout, $725,000, went to a Brooklyn public housing tenant who fell and broke her leg while stepping out of an elevator. The elevator had come to a stop two inches below floor level, creating a serious risk of passengers tripping while exiting the car. At least 14 elevator accidents involved children. In 30 cases, violations were issued to the NYCHA by the Buildings Department. The city has since made several repairs and has allocated $107 million toward the replacement of 550 elevators over the next five years.

Personal injury lawsuits against the city must be filed within certain time frames. If you or a loved one has been injured in a New York City public housing elevator accident, you should seek immediate medical and legal help. The attorneys at the Orlow firm are well-versed in this area of law and are knowledgeable about the procedures involved in filing claims against the city.

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