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Sidewalk Accidents

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A sidewalk accident typically occurs when a person trips and falls or slips and falls on a defective walkway or sidewalk. In New York City, millions of pedestrians use sidewalks every day. But, not many of us think about the potential dangers that a number of these sidewalks present. For example, when property owners fail to remove ice or snow from sidewalks, they can become dangerously slippery, causing slip-and-fall accidents. When sidewalks have potholes, cracks or raised tree roots, they may pose a trip-and-fall hazard. In New York City, many sidewalks have cellar door openings that typically lead to storage areas for stores, restaurants and other establishments. A cellar door that is left open or not properly maintained can also be dangerous to pedestrians. Further, construction activity in the city may increase the risk of pedestrians and bystanders being struck by falling objects.

Victims who have suffered injuries in sidewalk accidents usually face significant financial challenges including paying their medical bills, coping with lost wages and growing hospitalization costs. Injured victims often undergo weeks or even months of rehabilitative treatment such as physical therapy to regain their strength, flexibility and mobility. These costs add up quickly. Anyone who has been injured in a New York City sidewalk accident would be well advised to carefully examine his or her legal rights and options.

Causes of Sidewalk Accidents

New York City’s five boroughs – Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island – together have about 12750 miles of sidewalks. There are several reasons why sidewalk accidents occur in the city. Here are some of the most common causes of these types of accidents involving pedestrians:

  • Poor construction: When a sidewalk has been badly constructed, it is more likely that it will develop holes or cracks that may trip a pedestrian walking on it. This includes uneven or surfaces that are not level, which also pose a serious danger for pedestrians. The New York Department of Transportation specifies standards for sidewalk construction.
  • Snow and ice: In the winter, snow and ice that forms on the sidewalk must be promptly cleared. In freezing temperatures, this accumulated snow may harden and pose a serious slip-and-fall hazard to pedestrians.
  • Poor maintenance: Sidewalks do require constant maintenance. When property owners or the city fails to maintain sidewalks on a regular basis by making needed repairs and removing debris, pedestrians are in danger of suffering injuries. An example of failure to maintain is allowing tree roots to stick out of sidewalks. Roots that are not trimmed can pose a trip-and-fall hazard to pedestrians. Also, tree roots can push up areas of sidewalk.
  • Construction accidents: With the amount of construction going on in New York City, particularly high-rise construction, it is not uncommon for pedestrians to get hit by objects or equipment that are dropped from higher elevations. Recently a woman was cut by a saw that flew out of the hands of a construction worker at a worksite. Such incidents tend to result in catastrophic injuries.

The Danger of Sidewalk Cellars

Sidewalk cellars are storage areas used by merchants and businesses in New York City. Despite the utility of these cellars, they do present dangers for pedestrians. Recently, a pedestrian in East Harlem fell through an open cellar door on a sidewalk and suffered a head injury. Under New York City law, the property owner and/or tenant may be held responsible for keeping their sidewalks safe. The city does inspect sidewalk cellar doors to see if they are damaged, bent, broken or wobbly.

Also, city officials investigate sidewalk cellar doors that are left open and unprotected, creating an unsafe condition. Under city regulations, property owners or business owners can keep these sidewalk cellar doors open during a delivery as long as they have a designated person in the area to warn pedestrians and prevent them from falling in. The city reviews requests for any new sidewalk cellar doors that are to be installed on public property.

Shoddy Sidewalk Sheds Pose Hazards

Sidewalk sheds have become more and more common in New York City’s landscape. In fact, the number of permits for sidewalk sheds has more than doubled since 1998 to nearly 10,000. These sheds are mandated by the city whenever construction, remodeling or demolition is taking place and several private contractors specialize in building them. A recent investigation by New York World found that the city’s effort to ensure that these structures are safe and effective has faltered resulting in injuries to pedestrians.

A special Scaffold Safety Team created in 2007 to oversee these types of sidewalk sheds has seen its staff reduced from 14 field inspectors to nine in 2013. The number of violations issued for faulty or dangerous sheds has dropped significantly – from 855 in 2009 to 337 in 2013. At least 39 pedestrians and construction workers have been injured since January 2011 in accidents involving sidewalk sheds. While no deaths have been recorded over the last four years, victims have suffered serious injuries including concussions and electric shock. Often, this type of a shed tends to collapse during its construction or when it is being dismantled due to falling construction debris or because of high winds.

Types of Injuries Suffered in Sidewalk Accidents

The nature and severity of the injuries suffered in a sidewalk accident can vary depending on how and where the incident occurred. Some sidewalk accidents result in minor or moderate injuries while others could be catastrophic, resulting in permanent injuries or disabilities, or even fatal. Here are some of the common types of injuries sustained in New York sidewalk accidents:

Herniated discs: A herniated disc refers to a problem with one of the rubbery cushions or discs between the individual vertebrae that stack up to make the spinal column. A spinal disk has a soft center like a jelly donut that is encased in a tougher exterior. A herniated disc occurs when some of the softer “jelly” pushes out through a crack in the hard exterior. This condition can irritate nearby nerves and result in chronic pain, numbness or weakness in an arm or leg etc. A number of people with herniated discs struggle to perform everyday activities. For some, it may even prove career ending.

Traumatic brain injuries: A traumatic brain injury occurs when an external mechanical force causes brain dysfunction. Brain injuries may result from a violent blow or jolt to the head or body. Even a mild traumatic brain injury may result in long-term damage of brain cells. More serious traumatic brain injury can result in bruising, torn tissues, bleeding and other physical damage to the brain that can lead to long-term complications or even death. Brain injury victims are often in need of long-term rehabilitation and/or care.

Spinal cord trauma: Neck and back injuries are extremely common in a sidewalk accident. These types of injuries usually involve some type of spinal cord damage. A spinal cord injury often causes permanent changes in strength, sensation and other body functions below the site of the injury. If you’ve experienced a spinal cord injury as the result of a sidewalk accident, it may seem as if every aspect of your life has been affected. People with severe spinal cord injuries often need extensive treatment and rehabilitation in order to lead productive, independent lives.

Broken bones: A fracture or broken bone is one of the more common injuries that result from a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accident. Broken bones while commonplace are still major injuries that can typically require extensive treatment, rest and rehabilitation.

Joint injuries: Falling accidents also result in injuries to joints such as the knee, elbow, shoulder, or ankle etc. These types of injuries may result in significant and chronic pain, time away from work and extensive physical therapy.

Responsibility for Sidewalks – The Law in New York City

Thousands of New Yorkers and visitors to the city are injured each year due to slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accidents. Sidewalk accident claims are the most frequent source of liability issues in New York City. The city, in 2003, moved responsibility for some sidewalk liability from itself to property owners. Since that law was passed, there has been a rapid increase in sidewalk-related negligence action. The best way for property owners to avoid this type of liability is by ensuring that they maintain sidewalks properly and make the needed repairs before it becomes a defect. The city of New York is still responsible for some sidewalks.

Section 7-210 of New York City’s Administrative Code makes property owners potentially liable for personal injuries that are caused by their failure to maintain reasonably safe sidewalks. Defective sidewalks and failure to remove snow and ice or debris in a timely manner may result in serious injuries and a potential personal injury lawsuit.

In New York City, property owners and/or the city must keep adjacent sidewalks and pedestrian ramps in good condition, free of defects and slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall hazards. Property owners are required to install, construct, repave, reconstruct or repair sidewalks and pedestrian ramps to New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) specifications. It is important to remember that property owners through lease agreements may try to shift this liability to tenants, merchants, property managers or building maintenance companies.

Damages in Sidewalk Accidents

Injured victims of sidewalk accidents can seek compensation for damages including, but not limited to, medical expenses, lost wages and benefits, cost of hospitalization, rehabilitation, permanent injuries, disabilities, past and future pain and suffering, etc. The family of a deceased victim can seek compensation as well by filing a wrongful death claim.

Who can be held liable? Sidewalk accidents can result in premises liability claims against property owners, tenants and/or property managers or the city. If the accident occurred on public property, the city or governmental agency responsible for maintaining the property can also be held liable. If the sidewalk accident occurred as the result of an object dropped from a worksite or a construction site, the contractor, property owner and/or construction firm in charge can be held accountable. There are a number of parties that may be potentially liable for your injuries due to a sidewalk accident. It is important to obtain the guidance of an experienced New York sidewalk accident lawyer to ensure that you understand all of your legal rights and options.

How to Prevent Sidewalk Accidents

Property owners or managers can take several measures to help prevent slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accidents on sidewalks:

  • Train staff members, maintenance staff and other employees with regard to safety measures such as keeping sidewalks clear of debris.
  • Have a maintenance plan and keep equipment such as snow blowers and shovels in good condition so they can be used when needed.
  • Treat surfaces before expected high levels of pedestrian traffic.
  • Check melting piles of snow and ice for refreezing.
  • Repair or replace downspouts, gutters, awnings and roofs to prevent dripping water on sidewalks.
  • Make sure there is adequate lighting in the area.
  • Keep sidewalks clear of debris and other items away from the areas where pedestrians are walking.
  • Repair and correct cracks, uneven surfaces and protruding tree roots in a timely manner.
  • Post signs or use caution tape around areas of the sidewalk that are damaged or in need of repair.

If You Have Been Injured

If you have fallen because of a defective sidewalk, take a moment to determine if you have suffered an injury. If you are hurt, it is important that you take the following steps:

  • Call a Personal Injury Attorney right away
  • Call for help right away.
  • Collect contact information from anyone who witnessed your fall.
  • Notify the property owner about the incident.
  • Take photos of the hazardous location as soon as you can because it is possible that the damage will be rectified.
  • Make sure you get medical attention right away.

Compensation for Injured Victims

If you or a loved one has been injured in a sidewalk accident, please contact the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm who can help you better understand your legal rights and options. Our law firm has recovered millions of dollars for victims of sidewalk accidents.

Please contact us TOLL FREE 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-WORK-4-YOU (1-800-967-5496). WE CAN EVEN COME TO YOU. There is no attorneys’ fee unless we recover money for you. We can also help with personal injury cases in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or Florida. If you have been seriously injured in any of the 50 U.S. states, please call us and we will try to help you with your case.

Other TOLL FREE phone numbers for us are:

1-800-RADIO-LAW, 1-888-WYPADEK, OR 1-800-LAS-LEYES

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