Powers v. 31 E 31 LLC – Apartment Fall Premises Liability Lawsuit

Building codes are established to keep structures safe. When those codes are violated or ignored, innocent people – including tenants, guests and bystanders – may become injured. In these situations, injured parties may be entitled to relief through a premises liability lawsuit.
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However, sometimes claims are not as straightforward as they appear on the surface, particularly when older buildings are involved. That’s because while older buildings may not conform to current standards of construction, sometimes those structures are “grandfathered in,” so long as they adhered to the previous codes at the time they were built or renovated.

Still, that might not be a catch-all defense, depending on the facts of the case.

Greensboro premises liability lawyers understand one such complex case was presented recently to the New York Court of Appeals, which ruled plaintiff should be allowed to have his case heard at trial – despite the defense argument that the claim should be dismissed because the injury was not foreseeable, the danger was open and obvious and the building, while not meeting current codes, had been grandfathered in.

In Powers v. 31 E 31 LLC, the injury in question occurred in 2008 in Manhattan. Plaintiff and several friends, who had all been drinking alcohol, visited the apartment of a friend, located on the second floor of a 13-story apartment building. While there, plaintiff and his friends exited the unit through a window to access a roof deck outside. The roof deck was not lined with any railing, and just next to it was an air shaft that was about 25-feet deep and six-feet across.

The group was outside for several minutes before returning back to the apartment. After several minutes, the friends realized plaintiff was missing. They later found him at the bottom of the air shaft, unresponsive. He survived, but suffered serious and debilitating injuries.

A guardian ad litem was appointed for plaintiff, and a personal injury action commenced against the building managers and owners, asserting defendants created a dangerous condition, and this negligence proximately resulted in plaintiff’s injuries. Specifically, the absence of a guardrail around the air shaft was a violation of the state’s building code.

Defendants moved for summary judgment on grounds that the accident was unforeseeable (they could not have anticipated plaintiff would exit the apartment through the window), the danger was open and obvious (a key defense in premises liability cases) and the structure did meet the building code as it was written at the time of the building’s construction. The trial court denied this motion. However, the appellate division granted it. That order was later reversed by the court of appeals.

The higher court found defendant failed to eliminate concerns regarding the applicability of the exception to adherence to modern building codes. Further, while defendants argued the older building codes only required them to have railings around the highest levels of the roof, the court disagreed.

This doesn’t mean plaintiff has won his case. It means defendants were not entitled to a favorable judgment as a matter of law, and the facts will now be litigated in court. Plaintiff will still have to prove negligence.

Because these cases can be complex, particularly as it relates to the historical component of building code application, it’s imperative for plaintiffs to select an injury lawyer with extensive experience.

Contact our North Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Powers v. 31 E 31 LLC, Oct. 21, 2014, New York Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Jones v. Imperial Palace of Mississippi, LLC: On Slip and Fall Lawsuits, Oct. 9, 2014, Greensboro Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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