It will come as no surprise to New York City residents that winter 2014 has been one of the worst, and slipperiest, seasons on record. The relentless freezing temperatures, combined with a total of more than six feet of snow, turned icy city streets and avenues into hundreds of miles of hazardous exterior surfaces that forced city dwellers to struggle perilously against the harsh elements to try and make their way around town safely without getting hurt.
Conditions that caused Charlie Chaplin-like pratfalls were anything but comedic if you talk to any one of a number of orthopedists, emergency room doctors and New York City pedestrian accident lawyers, whose offices were filled continuously with accident victims seeking medical attention and legal counsel.
Icy Sidewalks Lead to More Slip-and-Fall Accidents for Pedestrians
According to Jay Dankner, of Dankner Milstein, P.C., one of New York’s top pedestrian accident lawyers, contrary to conventional belief a serious injury caused by tripping and falling on a broken sidewalk, pothole, or icy street does not necessarily result in automatic grounds for filing a pedestrian accident lawsuit against the city.
“There is something in New York called the Sidewalk Law (Admin Code 7-210), which states who is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk,” Dankner said. “There also is the existing NYC Pothole Law, which says the City of New York, or its subdivisions (i.e. The Department of Transportation) cannot be held liable for an injury caused by a pothole unless the Department and/or the City has been given prior written notice of the defect and its location.
“If someone is injured,” Dankner added, “as a result of a pothole and a law suit does ensue, it can be very helpful for the plaintiff to have the nature and size of the defect also on the record.” Dankner advises pedestrians who do take the time to submit a notice to the city of a potentially dangerous condition, to include as much information about the defect as possible, such as length, width, depth of the pothole, etc.
Conversely, Dankner said that the need for prior written notice does not apply to property owners who may very well be liable for damages if someone is injured in a fall due to unsafe conditions on steps, in parking lots and on other passageways that are left in a hazardous condition, regardless of whether prior written notice had been given to the parties responsible for the property’s maintenance. The degree of a property owner’s liability also depends on the type of property that is adjacent to the sidewalk.
“In situations involving a recent storm,” Dankner continued, “the law provides a municipality with sufficient time to clear snow and ice from city property. For example, a slip and fall case can not be filed against the city, while it’s still snowing, which in effect would be like blaming the city because they didn’t clean their property sufficiently during the storm.
“However,” Dankner explained, “when the snow has finally stopped falling it must be cleared from municipal property within a reasonable time (4 hours was considered reasonable by the court). Liability can be imposed if the owner, or the city, did an improper job of cleaning their property thereby creating a hazard.”
Precautionary Measures to Avoid Slip and Fall Accidents in New York City
After weathering – no pun intended – a rough and tumble winter like the one we just experienced, that has left the city and environs riddled with potholes and cracked sidewalks – just drive down The Henry Hudson Parkway if you want to see how bad it really is – Dankner has some advice for motorists and pedestrians who, despite the arrival of spring, continue to be vulnerable to the yet unrepaired roadway and street hazards that remain a stark reminder of the winter of 2014:
- If you see a pothole or other dangerous roadway, or street condition, take a picture of it with your mobile phone. Dankner also advises pedestrians to measure the length, width and depth of the defect and show exactly where it is by using reference points (street sign, hydrant, house address, etc.) in the photo.
- Call 311 and report the defect in full detail. Tell whoever answers the complaint hot-line that there is a dangerous condition and that you are requesting it be repaired as soon as possible. Make sure to obtain the complaint number and save it.
- However, a call to 311 does not automatically satisfy the prior written notice requirement (referenced earlier). Prior written notice means just that: notice of defect (i.e. pothole) must be made in writing and the notice must be sent to the proper department of the City of New York — such as the Department of Transportation, or the Department of Environmental Protection. (The photos and description would put the city on notice regarding future events only.)
- Written notices should be sent to the following departments:
NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
PRIOR NOTIFICATION UNIT
55 WATER STREET
NEW YORK, NY 10041
DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
CUSTOMER SERVICE CENTER
59-17 JUNCTION BOULEVARD
FLUSHING, NY 11373
- Victims of slip, trip and fall accidents on city property should contact a top New York City pedestrian accident lawyer as soon as possible after the incident so their rights can be protected. The statute of limitations regarding a Notice Of Claim, which is a precursor to an actual lawsuit, is required within 90 days after an accident that takes place on city property. The statute of limitations for a similar accident that occurs on private property, has a statute of limitations requirement of three years in which to begin an action.
- These same guidelines above also apply to accidents involving bicycle riders who are injured on city streets and roadways.