On the Job Injury
WRSH Partner obtained a $258,000 verdict for a 42 year old man who was injured at work when he fell through a trap door in the floor which had inadvertently been left open. Unable to sue the victim's employer due to prohibitions under NY's Workers' Compensation laws, WRSH Partner commenced the action against the owner of the building, alleging that the trap door created an unreasonable safety risk to those persons who were likely to encounter the door.
The defendants vigorously argued that the building owner was an out-of-possession landlord, who under New York State law, could not be held liable for a defective condition unless that condition was both a structural defect, which violated the NYC building code and a condition which the building owner had actual notice of. They further argued that there was nothing structurally unsound about the door, and that the only time the door posed a danger was when it was left in the open position by employees of the tenant, people over whom the building owner had no control of. Lastly, the defendant building owner never admitted to having actual knowledge of the existence of this door.
Research of recent case law involving trap door cases indicated that the vast majority of these cases had been thrown out by the courts for all the reasons cited by the defendants in our case. WRSH Partner knew that the only possibility of avoiding dismissal was to distinguish our case from past trap door cases, by showing that the building owner not only had actual knowledge of the trap door's existence, but was also negligent in approving the location where the tenant wished to place this door. Here, the trap door was located behind a bar where, at any given time, a multitude of employees worked under often hectic and fast-paced conditions.
To prove actual notice, WRSH Partner subpoenaed a witness from the NYC Department of Buildings who came to court with copies of the actual blueprint drawings and permit applications submitted by the building owner. Through this witness, WRSH Partner was able to prove to the jury that not only did the building owner know of the existence of this trap door but they also signed off on its actual location. WRSH Partner argued that the building owner knew or should have known that based upon the location of the trap door, it was only a matter of time before someone fell and sustained injuries. WRSH Partner further argued that the premises were negligently designed and that the owner of the premises was ultimately responsible for this by approving the construction and location of this door. The jury agreed and awarded the plaintiff $258,000.
As a result of the accident, our client sustained injuries to his neck and back requiring extensive treatment. The client suffered a herniated lumbar disc at L3-4 along with bulging discs at L4-5 and L5-S1, for which he underwent epidural injections.
It should be noted that the defendants tried on four separate occasions to have the case dismissed, but each time WRSH Partner successfully convinced the court that there were questions of fact requiring resolution by the jury.