As New Yorkers walk the endless miles of city sidewalks they may be completely unaware of the dangers lurking just below their feet - dangers such as poorly maintained sidewalk grates, access panels and manholes. A recent accident involving a part-time New York Sanitation worker illustrates the potential dangers of sidewalk grates and access panels when he fell 12 feet into a vault while clearing snow. Given how common it is for buildings in New York to use grate systems to cover sidewalk vaults - not to mention the severity of injuries that occur if you fall down into a vault - New Yorkers need to be especially vigilant in avoiding sidewalk grate accidents.
This particular accident occurred after the employee was called in as an emergency shoveler to clear sidewalks and crosswalks. The worker was standing on a sidewalk grate, but when he stepped on the edge of the grate it unexpectedly flipped over - causing him to plummet 12 feet down into the vault, with the grate following quickly behind and hitting him on the head.
New York City Liability
Obviously, since the Sanitation employee was working at the time of the accident, workers' compensation will come into play, however, there may be potential third-party liability - not to mention that regular pedestrians do not have the option of workers' compensation following a sidewalk vault injury. So this begs the question, who exactly is liable for sidewalk grate and access panel accidents in New York City?
Generally, the NYC Administrative Code requires the owner of the property abutting the sidewalk to maintain the sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition - thus assigning potential tort liability when injuries occur as a result of their failure to keep the sidewalk in a safe condition. However, when it comes to sidewalk grates and vaults, New York case law has concluded that the owners of the grates and access covers - usually utility companies, transit authorities or the city - are the ones liable for injuries caused by inadequate grate maintenance.
This conclusion was based on a City of New York Department of Transportation Rule which provides that "[t]he owners of covers or gratings on a street are responsible for monitoring the condition of the covers and gratings and the area extending twelve inches outward from the perimeter of the hardware." This particular rule would be applicable to not only sidewalk grates and access panel covers but manholes and utility caps as well.
The rule further requires that "[t]he owners of covers or gratings shall replace or repair any cover or grating found to be defective and shall repair any defective street condition found within an area extending twelve inches outward from the perimeter of the cover or grating." So as long as the defect is within 12 inches of the sidewalk grate, cover or manhole, the owner of the grate will be responsible. However, it should be noted that liability may still be imposed on the abutting property owner if the property owner affirmatively created the dangerous condition, made negligent repairs to the defective area or created the dangerous condition by making special use of the area.
If anything, these complex rules and codes show just how difficult it can be to navigate New York's extensive laws. If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a sidewalk grate accident, contact an experienced attorney in your area today to be advised of your rights and options.