A 5-year-old girl was fatally injured by a decorative stone fence that fell on her. According to an NBC news report, the girl was walking with her mother on Harman Street in Bushwick when they came upon a decorative stone fence, which has been described as a row of heavy marble pillars with a shelf on top. When the girl pulled on it, parts of the fence came undone and struck her knocking her to the ground. The girl was said to have suffered fatal head trauma.
A neighbor who heard the impact and the child’s mother scream rushed to their aid. They flagged down a passing ambulance and the child was rushed to the hospital. However, her head injuries were too severe and she was pronounced dead at the hospital. The neighbor described the child’s injuries as “horrific” and another man said his wife was traumatized just witnessing the girl’s injuries.
The girl’s mother said they were in the area visiting a relative when the girl was playing with the decorative stone fence. It suddenly toppled over her daughter, she said. Our thoughts and prayers go out to this grieving family.
Failure to Maintain Property
The New York City Department of Buildings was called to the scene outside the residential three-family home. It determined that the 3-foot-by-6-foot ornamental fence in the front yard topped over and fatally struck the girl. The agency issued a violation to the property owner for failure to maintain the property. The Department of Buildings also found that the remaining part of the fence that was still standing was a potential hazard. So, it ordered the property owner to dismantle the fence once its investigation is complete.
Agency officials said the sidewalk in front of the property has been closed off until the remaining fence is taken down and that additional enforcement actions are pending the final results of its investigation. Officials said the Department of Buildings had never gotten any complaints about this particular fence before the girl’s death. Online records too show no prior outstanding façade violations at that location. The homeowner told NBC that the family spent $40,000 on the new fence and that they had contracted the job out and had a permit to do so. Police described the stone fence as “heavy.”
This is not the first time a young child has been hit by a building’s façade. In May 2015, a 2-year-old girl was killed by bricks raining down from a crumbling Upper West Side building. The girl and her grandmother were struck by terra-cotta bricks that fell off the façade. The child suffered fatal injuries and her grandmother sustained leg injuries.
What the City’s Laws State
New York City does have a strict facade-inspection law. However, this tragedy is a reminder of the law’s limits. In 1979, a Barnard College student was killed in a similar accident when a cornice fell from an apartment building and struck her. The following year, then Mayor Ed Koch signed a law requiring the inspection of facades of buildings taller than six stories every five years.
The New York City Department of Buildings’ statistics show that between 2009 and 2014, nine people have died as a result of objects falling from buildings although this number includes objects such as falling tools and construction materials. During the same period, 250 incidents of falling objects were reported to the Buildings Department.
Compensation for Victims and Families
Whether objects fall and strike bystanders from a construction site or from a building, the injured victims and families of deceased victims have legal rights. In cases where debris or equipment from a construction site or building strikes a victim, the construction firm, general contractor, sub-contractor, building owner and/or other responsible parties may be held liable depending on the circumstances of the incident. If a part of a building falls off, strikes and injures someone, the building owner and/or property manager may be held responsible by filing a premises liability claim.
Our law firm recovered $3,375,576 for a construction worker (an undocumented immigrant) who was injured on the job – one of the highest construction case settlements in New York that year. Also, one of our clients obtained a verdict for $43,940,000 and another of our clients got a verdict for $23,500,000, both in medical malpractice cases.
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