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Recovering for New York Sidewalk Accidents; Getting to the “Root of the Problem”–Tree Roots and Sidewalks

New York City’s laws can be a minefield regarding sidewalk falls.

We recently had a case illustrating this point.

Our client tripped on a raised flagstone in front of The New School, a private college.   It appears that the cement was raised due to a tree root that had pushed-up the cement block.

    An example of a sidewalk damaged by tree roots.

Under the recently enacted Administrative Code sec. 7-210, the adjoining premises owner would be liable for the condition of the sidewalk.  However, the City is responsible for the tree well and the tree. 

We filed suit against the New School.  In turn, the college filed a third-party action against the City claiming that the City’s tree uprooted the sidewalk, and the City’s tree roots caused or contributed to the broken sidewalk.

The City moved to dismiss stating that it had no liability for the sidewalk and that responsibility falls on the adjoining property owner.   The college claimed that the defect was caused by the City’s tree.

The Court ruled that responsibility resides with the private property owner.  The City is out of the case.  See the decision here.

We have written extensively about sidewalk accidents in prior posts.  If you have been injured due to a broken sidewalk, please feel free to contact me for a free consultation at 800-581-1434 or

Mark E. Seitelman, 6/28/11,

Getting a Recovery for a Trip and Fall on a Defective Sidewalk; It’s Where You Trip that Counts (Part II)

In an earlier post I discussed that in a sidewalk accident, it all depends upon where you fall.

An appellate court has recently created another hurdle.   The Appellate Division, First Department, has held that the sidewalk ramp is deemed the responsibility of the City, not the adjoining property owner.   Ortiz v. City of New York, 2009 Slip Op 06299 (August 25, 2009).

In this case the injured client fell due to a defect on the sidewalk ramp.  He sued the adjoining building owner and the City.  The court held that neither the private property owner nor the City were liable.  The client’s case was dismissed.

Sidewalk ramps are required for curb corners under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act so as to allow easier wheelchair access and as well as to eliminate a tripping hazard for the blind.

In essence the court said that the sidewalk ramp is the responsibility of the City despite the fact that the law requires the land owner to maintain the sidewalk to the curb.  There appears to have been a “loophole” in the recent New York City law which shifted liability to the private property owner from the City.  Under the court’s reading, City’s ordinance makes the property owner liable for the sidewalk “flags”, but it is silent as the sidewalk ramp.  Therefore, the City remains liable for the ramps.

Therefore, the court reasoned that the private property owner would not be responsible.  As for a case against the City, there was no prior written notice of a defect, therefore, there was no liability against New York.  (No prior written notice be proved against the private owner.)

We find this ruling strange because the law imposes an obligation on the property owner to pave the sidewalk.  The owner must pave from his building line to the curb.  This includes the corner.  Furthermore, the sidewalk ramps and curb cuts are required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  As illustrated above, many property owners not only build the ramp but  enhance the it  with a non-skid surface.

This mess should be clarified by the City Council so as to make it clear that adjoining property owner is liable for the condition of the sidewalk including the sidewalk ramp.

A plan for a sidewalk ramp.

If you have been injured from a sidewalk trip and fall, please feel free to contact me for a free consultation at 800-581-1434 or write to

Mark E. Seitelman, 1/19/10,


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