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Trip-and-Fall Cases Less Rampant with Handrails on Both Sides of Your Ramp

Frank Lovece in Legal/Financial on October 31, 2014

Fieldstone Plaza, 445 W. 240th Street, Riverdale

Fieldstone Plaza, Riverdale, The Bronx
Fieldstone Plaza (ramp not visible) in Riverdale, The Bronx
Oct. 31, 2014

Mail carrier Renzo Vasquez had been delivering to Fieldstone Plaza Condominium, at 445 West 240th Street in the Riverdale section of The Bronx, for the three years. The front of the building has a short ramp, about three feet wide and six feet long, which is adjoined by two steps. On Jan. 5, 2009, that ramp still had a metal railing only on the left-hand side, and even that one did not extend though the length of the ramp.

Like many mail carriers, Vasquez pushed a mail cart. On this particular day, in his words, "I made a left turn into the ramp. As I passed the two feet of railing, I'm coming down and, like, the cart, like, kind of pushed me and I lost my balance." Leaving aside the claim of a suddenly anthropomorphic cart, he lost his balance and fell to the right.

In Condo Veritas

Condo-board president Michael Dailey said it was the building's fault — it was the managing agent's fault. Veritas Property Management, Dailey claimed, dealt with the day-to-day affairs of running the building, including supervising the live-in superintendent. He did allow that Veritas generally had to get board approval to pay for any work in the building or on the common property outside. Prior to Vasquez's accident, there had been no complaints about the ramp or lack of handrails. 

Now, the owner of a property — in this case the condominium corporation — has a duty to keep its property in a " ... reasonably safe condition, considering all of the circumstances including the purposes of the person's presence and the likelihood of injury," as the law puts it. While Veritas is not the owner of the property, Fieldstone argued that the company was the exclusive managing agent for the premises and was required to hire, pay and supervise anyone necessary to properly maintain and operate the property, and to hire contractors to effect repairs and alterations to the common elements.

Ground Control

Two things here. First Veritas did not have "exclusive and complete control," the court said, since it didn't have independent authority to hire a contractor: It needed Board approval to hire anyone to perform any repairs or alterations on the premises, and could not spend more than $3,000 without Board approval. (Any emergency repairs, regardless of cost, could be made without Board approval but required consultation with an Officer of the Board unless one was not available.)

Secondly, Veritas did not have any independent obligation to install a railing since there was no evidence it been given notice that there was a defective condition. If someone had brought it to Veritas' attention, then the company would have been required to bring it up with the Board and seek Board approval to install another handrail.

The board has since installed a right-hand railing and a longer left-hand railing. So you've got to hand it to Fieldstone that it did take those proper safety measures. Now if only it had looked at the ramp before all this and asked, "Why is there only one handrail when you could fall off both sides?" And now that you know it's a question you should ask yourself, well … ask yourself.


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