For many years the law in New York had placed the responsibility to maintain the sidewalk's in the City of New York on the City of New York. Since the City owned the sidewalk, the City should be responsible. With a tremendous amount of defects and potholes around the City of New York, the City lobbied the Bloomberg Administration who in 2003, amended the City Sidewalk Law to provide that going forward, any sidewalk adjacent to a property other than a 1,2, or 3 family owner occupied for residential purposes only would have to be responsible for the maintenance and repair of their sidewalk. In addition, they would be responsible to fix any defects that occurred which were considered a tripping hazzard or danger.
The City of New York in a compromise with small homeowner's maintained responsibility over sidewalks adjacent to 1,2 or 3 family owner occupied homes for residential purposes only. As it has been in the past and prior to this change, in order to sue the City of New York for such a defect, the injured party must still show that the City of New York was given prior written notice of the condition at least 14 days before the accident.
This has become difficult as prior to the change in the law, the Big Apple Pothole Coproration would regularly use licensed surveyors who would go and map the City sidewalks and send these maps to the Department of Transportation. Given the change in the law it has become less useful and the Big Apple Pothole Corporation has discontinued doing these maps; as most sidewalks in Manhattan and even in the outer boroughs are not the type that the City would be responsible for.
At Leav & Steinberg, LLP we are always working for our clients to establish that a responsible party, whether it be the City of New York or an adjacent landowner be held accountable for defects that can and do cause serious injuries.
Just last summer, Daniel Leav was able to secure a verdict of $1,100,000.00 for a man who fell on a defective sidewalk. The interesting thing in this case was that the defect was right at the edge of the pedestrian ramp. Under the new law since 2003, the adjacent landowner is now responsible for the sidewalk; however excluded from the definition is the curb, tree well and the pedestrian ramp. These remained with the City of New York. Through very wise and tactful investigation we discovered that the defect was about 12" just outside what would be defined as the pedestrian ramp; despite that the photograph made it appear that it could be in the ramp. Daniel Leav not only convinced the court of this but he also convinced the jury in New York County that the landlord; despite trying to blame a tenant for the defect's responsibility was wholly responsible for the condition.
More recently, the Appellate Division of the Second Department ruled in a case called Gibbons v. The City of New York that a tree well was outside the scope of responsibility of the adjacent landowner even when the owner is a commercial landlord responsible for the full maintenance of the sidewalk. Here the court said even if the owner was making a special use of the tree well it stil could not be responsible.
As this law is ever evolving we at Leav & Steinberg continue to monitor the Court's interpretation of the law so our clients can be protected.