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Sidewalk Shed Could Have Protected 60-Year-Old Woman from Façade Failure

Many people are saying a sidewalk shed might have prevented the tragic death of a 60-year-old Manhattan architect who was killed by a piece of facade that fell from a 49th Street building.

Erica Tishman was hit by the falling debris around mid-morning on December 17 while she was walking on 49th Street near Seventh Avenue, according to the New York Post. Police said she was pronounced dead at the scene.

City building records show that the property — 729 7th Avenue, owned by 729 Acquisition LLC — was cited in April for “failure to maintain exterior building facade and appurtenances,” according to the newspaper. Building inspectors noted “damaged terra cotta at areas above 15th floor in several locations, which poses a falling hazard for pedestrians.”

In another report, the Post says 729 Acquisition LLC “obtained permits to repair its deteriorating roof and 17th-floor facade in October 2018 but did not proceed — leading to a $1,250 citation from the city on April 29, 2019, for ‘Failure to maintain exterior building facade and appurtenances.’”

In August 2019, “an architect hired by the building’s owners was also issued a permit to install a sidewalk shed to protect pedestrians while the repair work was underway — but the protective covering never went up” the Post says.

Property owners have a legal obligation to maintain their property in safe condition and to take reasonable steps to prevent accidents. They may be held legally accountable when they fail to fulfill their legal obligations. Filing a personal injury lawsuit can focus attention on a public safety issue and prevent others from being harmed.

NYC Building Code §3307 requires that “Property owners must install a shed when constructing a building more than 40 feet high, demolishing a building more than 25 feet high — and when danger necessitates this type of protection.” Further, the city says, “Sidewalk sheds may not be built without the Department’s prior approval and work permits. However, when there’s an immediate threat to safety, owners may build a shed and file a permit application within 24 hours.”

A sidewalk shed was put up after the fatal accident, but the property owner still has open building code violations dating back to April.

We see little room to argue that 729 Acquisition LLC, which is actually owned by Himmel + Meringoff Properties, was unaware that their building required facade repair and restoration and, without it, posed a danger to passersby. The property owner had been warned about the condition of the building façade. As the property owners, H+M will almost certainly bear liability for negligence that led to a death on their premises.

NYC Has History of Deaths from Debris Falling from Buildings

In May 2015, 2-year-old Greta Greene died after she was hit by a falling brick while sitting with her grandmother on a bench near the Esplanade Manhattan assisted-living facility at West End Avenue and West 74th Street.

In 2016, Maqsood Faruqi, an engineer who had been hired to inspect the building from which the fatal brick fell, was given two years’ probation for having falsely claimed the facade was safe, according to the Post. The building’s owners, Esplanade Venture Partnership, and Alexander Scharf, its managing agent and principal majority shareholder, were charged under Local Law 11 with violating city codes that require exterior walls to be maintained in safe conditions, according to the New York Daily News. The charges carry a maximum penalty of $25,000 or up to a year in jail, or both.

A previous death caused by a failing facade 35 years earlier led New York City to take its first steps to deal with the risks posed by deteriorating walls on tall buildings. In May 1979, a piece of terra cotta fell from a building at 115th Street and Broadway on the Upper West Side and killed a Barnard College freshman.

Prior to that, “In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there were many reports of injuries and deaths in New York City caused by objects falling from buildings. Most accidents occurred during construction when stones fell out of slings or hammers slipped out of hands,” The New York Times reported in 2014. There were fewer than 10 “instances involving random pieces of dislodged masonry” a century and longer ago, The Times said.

But the Barnard student’s death led to the adoption of Local Law 10, requiring inspections of NYC’s new, old and aging facades, in 1980.

Local Law 10 was “moderately successful, but several accidents in the late 1990s prompted the NYC Department of Buildings to review the requirements in the law,” a local engineering firm explains. “The result was Local Law 11, a stricter version of LL10, also known as the Facade Inspection and Safety Program (FISP).”

Under FISP and RCNY §103-04, buildings taller than six stories must have their walls inspected at five-year intervals. Any wall elements classified as unsafe represent a public hazard and must be fixed within 30 days. Failure to correct an unsafe condition results in a penalty of $1,000 per month.

NYC Requires Sidewalk Sheds at Construction Sites

As mentioned above, before façade repair or restoration begins in NYC or after a building inspection identifies a potentially dangerous situation, building owners must erect protective sidewalk sheds.

Sidewalk sheds, which must run the length of the building plus 20 feet into adjacent properties at buildings taller than 100 feet, are erected to protect pedestrians from falling objects at unsafe structures and buildings under construction, renovation or demolition.

NYC Building Code §3307 outlines requirements for sidewalk sheds, including a required deck strength of 300 pounds per square foot, though there is no requirement for roof strength.

Sidewalk sheds must be removed immediately once construction, demolition, or remediation work is complete, according to the City.

As personal injury attorneys in New York City, we at David Resnick & Associates appreciate the protection provided by sidewalk sheds. They keep people from being injured or killed by falling objects from above. They should be removed in a timely manner when work is done, but we are far more concerned with sidewalk sheds existing where and when they are needed to protect New York pedestrians.

Recourse if You Have Been Hit by Falling Debris

If you have been injured in a falling object accident in New York City, you may have a right to seek compensation for your injuries and medical expenses if the building owner’s negligence led to the accident. Contact David Resnick & Associates for a free consultation with an experienced NYC premises liability lawyer to determine what legal options are available to you under the law. Contact us today.

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