Seventeen people were injured in New York City this week when a building scaffold collapsed and parts of the steel structure came crashing down on a city bus filled with passengers. The accident took place on West 125th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem. Fortunately, according to news reports, no one was injured badly.
A quick online search for reports of similar types of accidents on city streets reveals a frightening fact. That while not as common as accidents involving cars and pedestrians, the incidence of injuries to people who are hit by fallen debris from scaffolding, sidewalk sheds and other overhead structures is more common than most New Yorkers might realize.
"Cross the street. Take a different route home from work if you have to. And, a word of caution: never, ever let your children play underneath one these structures no matter how secure and steady it might look," Howard Raphaelson said. Raphaelson, a partner at the New York personal injury law firm of Raphaelson & Levine, is one of the city's top scaffolding accident lawyers.
Raphaelson explained that for years now builders and contractors have been required by law to place large, twenty-five foot display signs on the outer walls of scaffolding and sidewalk sheds. According to the city ordinance, the signs must prominently display the permit holder's name, address, phone number, permit number and the permit expiration date.
"If someone has a complaint or concern about the safety of one these structures, they should look for the sign and call the phone number that's posted on it," Raphaelson urges. "If the information is missing, concerned residents should call or write to the Department of Buildings, Construction Division and file a complaint."
Raphaelson also strongly recommends that people who live close to a sidewalk shed should take some simple steps to prevent accidents from happening.
"Residents should look for certain signs that could indicate a problem brewing," Raphaelson said. "For example, neighborhood residents should check walls of the scaffolding to make sure they are solid and have no gaps between them, or loosely hanging materials dangling from them. The builder is also required to provide adequate lighting under the shed.
"The company who installed the shed," he added, "is responsible for pedestrian safety. If someone is hurt by falling wood, glass, hardware, or other construction debris, the contractor, or a subcontractor, or the building owner can be held liable.
"Typically, though," he added, "when accidents like these happen, the City of New York is not generally liable.
Raphaelson suggests that neighborhood residents who must live in neighborhoods with the months-long, or years-long intrusion of a sidewalk shed, or scaffolding should contact their borough's Construction Division of the Department of Buildings and ask for a speaker to come to a group meeting to assure residents that the shed is safe and to explain what the division intends to do to keep it that way.