Fall from Apartment Without Guardrails

Case Synopsis: The Plaintiff and his two college roommates rented a third floor apartment above the pizzeria. The building had two apartments, one on the second floor, and one on the third floor. The Plaintiff’s bedroom was on the second floor of the building, accessed only through a trap door in the floor of the shared third floor apartment and the hatchway staircase. There was an exit door from the Plaintiff’s second floor bedroom that opened onto a open covered porch that had no guardrail protecting its open side. Additionally, the porch was part of the means of egress’s “exit accessway”, serving as a landing for an exterior fire escape that led to the grade below.

One evening the Plaintiff felt ill in his bedroom and, instead of going up the hatchway stairway to the third floor bathroom, he walked onto the porch landing. He leaned over the side of low parapet wall on the outside perimeter of the porch landing to vomit and suddenly fell approximately 20 feet to the cement sidewalk of the alleyway below striking his head.

Expert Analysis: Seven years prior to the incident, there was fire in the Pizzeria, which required major renovations to the premises ordered by the Building Inspector and Fire Marshall. Architect plans were prepared showing the work to be done. Among these were a new means of egress from the Plaintiff’s bedroom directly to the second floor interior (not by a hatchway stair) and new guardrails on the porch’s open side. These documented changes had to be completed before an Occupancy Permit could be issued. At the Arbitration hearing, the Defendant stated that he had an Occupancy Permit and the porch was a “roof” and not part of the means of egress; therefore, it did not require a guardrail. Upon review of the evidence, it was determined that the Defendant somehow secured an Occupancy Permit even though the required changes to second floor bedroom’s means of egress and new porch guardrails were never completed in the seven years prior to the incident’s occurrence. Additionally, if there had been a proper guardrail on the open edge the porch at the time the Plaintiff’s accident occurred, the accident could have been avoided.

Result: Arbitrator ruled in favor of the Plaintiff.

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