Slips, Trips, and Falls – Oh My!

It’s a city street, but you’ve got to maintain the sidewalk.

Attention small building owners in New York: You know those mythical holiday shoppers who get all their present-buying done well in advance of Thanksgiving and have a stress-free lead-up to the holidays? … Well, let’s apply that same logic to something that isn’t a myth – the reality of an insurance claim from someone falling on your building’s sidewalk or stairs. Autumn is the time to address any sidewalk hazards, before winter’s first storm hits.

If you own a building (with four or more units), New York City laws dictate that you are responsible for maintaining the sidewalk. That doesn’t just mean shoveling – but actually making repairs. (See the administrative codes here)

If someone slips, trips, or falls, an insurance claim will follow, and the City of New York is excused from any liability for injuries caused by areas in disrepair. These are one of our most common claims at Distinguished, and it’s important to understand a building owner’s responsibilities. Please note that owner-occupied buildings with one to three apartments are exempt from these rules and can get city assistance with sidewalk repairs.

Sidewalk Safety
The areas of primary concern are the sidewalk, any little path that may lead to the sidewalk, the parking lot, and any exterior stairs or public spaces, including in the rear of the building. When evaluating your sidewalk, check to see if there are any cracks or loose pieces of cement. Are the cracks more than a ½-inch raised or a ½-inch wide? What about any uneven levels or changes in elevation? These should all be repaired.

Stairs and Lighting
What is the condition of the handrail and the stairs themselves? Do any stairs need replacing? Evaluate the lighting and make sure it’s adequate and functioning (a new light bulb goes a long way!) Make sure all paths are clearly marked.

Snow and Ice Removal Tips
During icy weather, it’s essential to obtain a contract for snow removal if you’re not doing it yourself. If you’re not there to oversee operations, you’ll be able to fall back on the contract. Ask for a copy of your snow removal company’s insurance. Then, make a plan that works – consider pre-treating walkways before a storm and using anti-icing products after the area is cleared. Parking lots should be cleared regardless of usage.

Periodically, it makes sense to check in and assess any peculiarities. Perhaps a long icicle has formed. Rope off that area before it falls. Photographs of the area in good repair (and dated) are also useful to have on file.

Repairing cracks, adding lighting, and keeping sidewalks free and clear during winter are often low-cost solutions that reduce the risk of high-cost claims. Here is a link to the NYC Department of Transportation with tips on repairing your sidewalk.

For more info on your existing coverage, or to learn about additional liability insurance to cover sidewalk-related claims, please reach out to us.