City of New York Absolved of Liability for Sidewalk Trip and Fall

In Alvarado v. City of New York, the Supreme Court, Richmond County recently held that the City of New York was not liable for injuries sustained by a plaintiff who tripped and fell on the sidewalk in front of Dependable Auto Body in Staten Island.

Plaintiff claimed that she fell after her foot became wedged between a crack in the sidewalk and a water cap protruding from the sidewalk.

Initially, the court denied the property owners’ cross-motion for summary judgment, finding that they “failed to make a prima facie showing of their entitlement to judgment as adjacent property owners”.

Their proof “regarding the issue of the responsibility for maintenance of the sidewalk, which includes the water valve, its cover and the surrounding perimeter, is inconclusive”, and their expert’s affidavit “does not conclusively establish that the water valve and cap are owned by THE CITY, but rather that THE CITY installed the water valve.”

It explained:

With the enactment on September 14, 2003 of Section 7-210 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York, the liability for injuries resulting from negligent sidewalk maintenance has been shifted in most cases onto the abutting property owners, relieving THE CITY of such responsibility except in cases involving one-, two- or three-family, owner-occupied residential properties used exclusively for residential purposes. Accordingly, the duty to safely maintain the sidewalk where plaintiff claims to have fallen falls on defendants DEPENDABLE and QUATTROCCHI as the abutting property owners.

The court rejected the property owners’ argument that section 2-07 of the Rules of the City of New York (34 RCNY § 2-07) superseded Admin. Code section 7-210:

It is argued by DEPENDABLE and QUATTROCCHI that 34 RCNY § 2-07 places responsibility for the maintenance of such water valve covers and the area extending 12 inches outward therefrom, i.e., the general area where plaintiff was injured, upon the owner thereof, which it claims is THE CITY. Nevertheless, these defendants have failed to conclusively demonstrate that THE CITY is, in fact, the owner of the water valve cover. The Ferrantello affidavit submitted by cross-movants merely states that THE CITY installed the water valve. In addition, while there is proof, e.g., a building permit was issued as far back as 1991, indicating that a valve was installed at this location in connection with the installation of a sprinkler system at the premises, this again, is not sufficient to establish ownership on behalf of THE CITY. In fact, this proof tends to indicate that the valve was actually installed for the benefit of the adjacent business, and thus, its responsibility.

Moreover, even if the Rules of the City of New York did place the responsibility for maintenance of the water valve and cap and its 12-inch perimeter on THE CITY in this case, copies of photographs of the defective sidewalk indicate that the defect extends far beyond the 12-inch perimeter surrounding the water valve. Accordingly, the enactment of 34 RCNY §2-07 cannot be interpreted to limit the responsibility of the adjacent property owner to only a portion of the sidewalk. DEPENDABLE and QUATTROCCHI have not established that their maintenance obligations cease to exist for the entire sidewalk.

Furthermore, “it is well settled that prior written notice is a condition precedent which a party is required to plead and prove in order to maintain an action in tort against” the City of New York.  That requirement is codified in Section 7-201 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York.

Here, the City sufficiently demonstrated the absence of any prior written notice of the alleged sidewalk defect and that it did not “cause or create the condition through any affirmative act of negligence or that its alleged use conferred a special benefit upon it.” Specifically, the City presented an affidavit stating that searches through City records did not reveal that the City “performed any work which may have immediately resulted in a dangerous condition which caused plaintiff to fall.”

This was further supported by the deposition testimony of the property owner’s son

that in the ten years that he has been working at DEPENDABLE, he has never seen anyone access the subject water valve or perform any work at this location, tends to support the contention that no recent work was performed at that location. While there is proof indicating that work was performed back in 1991 in connection with the installation of a sprinkler system, this proof tends to suggest that the curb valve was necessary for the installation of DEPENDABLE’s sprinkler system, and thus, installed for the adjacent property owner’s benefit, and not for the benefit of or special use by THE CITY.

Finally, the fact that a “siamese connection” was added to the exterior wall of the property owners’ garage in case the fire department needed to access the building’s water supply did “not support the claim that the adjacent property owner is relieved of its obligation to maintain the subject sidewalk.”

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