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Does the NYC Construction Boom Compromise Public Safety?

There is no sign of construction slowing down anytime soon in New York City. In fact, according to data from the Department of Buildings, the city issued over 88,000 construction permits in the past six months - a record high. Another report estimates that construction spending in our city will climb to reach a staggering $147.9 billion by the end of 2019.

Construction permits issued by NYC - 2000 to 2017

Source: NYC.gov

The building boom is great for the economy; however, as the non-stop construction shows no signs of dissipating, what does it mean for the growing number of New Yorkers who navigate the streets? According to the latest findings, it can spell very real dangers.

Scaffold collapse in Soho injures six

Six pedestrians were injured as a result of a scaffold collapse on Sunday November 19, 2017. According to Eyewitness News, at around 11:30AM near the intersection of Broadway and Prince in SoHo, winds were gusting up to 40 miles per hour, causing a piece of plywood to "act like a sail" and pull down the rest of the sidewalk shed with it.

Witnesses described horrifying banging sounds, followed by loud wood falling. The collapse trapped two people underneath metal sheets, long beams, and other materials. Several others were harmed by the debris as well. Around 15 New Yorkers ran to free a woman underneath wooden planks and metal. According to one eyewitness, "her head was cracked open" and "her hip looked out of place." Another reported that she was "bleeding from the head."

Interviews with workers in the area seem to indicate that the scaffolding was a hazard before it fell. Will Alston, who worked in the building where the sidewalk shed collapse occurred, said that it has been shaking and it "basically just gave out."

Another worker, Bobby Canty, who was removing garbage bags, noted that the scaffolding was already rickety. "It was on a slant for about 20 minutes before it fell," he told the New York Post.

An official with the New York City Fire Department stated that "we're absolutely lucky" there weren't more injured as there was a subway stop at the busy intersection where the sidewalk shed initially stood.

A similar incident happened in the East Village where another set of scaffolds came loose at 753 E. 6th Street. Luckily, no one was harmed in the accident.

However, these recent occurrences show the potential hazards of nonstop construction in New York City - especially if it's not regulated properly. A gust of wind and a piece of plywood is all that it takes to place hundreds of New York City residents and visitors at risk of injury or death. More disturbingly, initial reports suggest that employer negligence contributed to the SoHo scaffold collapse. The winds that brought down the scaffolding were clocked between 40 to 50mph while a recent Buildings Department report indicated that the scaffolding should have been able to withstand winds of up to 98mph.

Some city officials are taking these accidents seriously, a good sign in light of the reports. New York City Councilman Ben Kallos plans to introduce legislation that requires scaffolding to be removed within a week if it's no longer in use, as temporary scaffolding is oftentimes left standing indefinitely because it's cheaper than taking it down. We could not agree more. Public safety should always be prioritized over profit.

Construction projects can pose real dangers to New Yorkers

Unfortunately, these recent incidents are not the first time bystanders have been harmed as a result of a construction accident. In a high-publicized incident, a crawler crane collapsed in Tribeca, killing David Wichs on his way to work. In another tragedy, a piece of flying plywood came loose from a fence in the wind and fatally struck Tina Nguyen, who was chatting on her phone in Greenwich Village. In both cases, the victims were average New Yorkers killed in fatal construction accidents.

The Law Firm of Block O'Toole & Murphy also represented victims of construction accidents that were not reported in the press. In one case, a pedestrian was walking outside the building where he worked when he was struck by a piece of falling cement. Represented by Block O'Toole & Murphy, he was awarded a $3,500,000 settlement. In another case, a truck driver fell into a hole left by a contractor at a construction site. He sustained spinal and knee injuries requiring surgery. Represented by Block O'Toole & Murphy attorneys, he recovered $1,995,000 for his injuries.

These and many other cases show that construction projects can be extremely hazardous to New Yorkers, especially if construction companies do not adhere strictly to safety regulations.

The Department of Buildings released a Façade Safety Report, which lists building façades of over 14,000 buildings in New York City and marks them Safe, Safe with a Repair or Maintenance Program, or Unsafe (meaning, it threatens public safety). Unsafe facades require sidewalk sheds, like the ones that collapsed in Soho and the East Village earlier this week. 

The report outlines active sidewalk sheds as of May 2017: 

Active Sidewalk Sheds in NYC - May 2017

Source: NYC Department of Buildings

As of May 2017, there are approximately 7,800 active sidewalk shed permits in New York City, which makes up half of Manhattan. Horrifying, DOB also reports that "there may be unpermitted sidewalk sheds in the city - just as construction work is sometimes performed without a permit."

With hundreds of miles of scaffolding in the city, the potential for another sidewalk shed collapse can have catastrophic consequences on pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists nearby. In cases where sidewalk sheds are assembled without a city permit, the question of safety becomes even more dire.

We have written extensively about the dangers facing construction workers, including inadequate safety equipment, negligence, and defective equipment. These recent incidents point to a startling reality: in many ways, New York City itself is one big construction site, and we are all facing these dangers.

When a crane or scaffolding falls on in a busy neighborhood, it is so much more than a "construction accident"; it is a public safety issue that needs to be actively addressed.

What to do if you've been injured

If you or someone you love has been hurt in a construction accident, you may be eligible for financial compensation for your injuries. New York State law protects pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists harmed as a result of scaffolding, cranes, forklifts, and other construction-related accidents.

Our personal injury lawyers have recovered numerous multi-million dollar Construction Accident verdicts and settlements for injured workers and pedestrians. For a free confidential consultation, please call 212-736-5300 to speak with an experienced attorney.