The Sidewalks are Narrowing in New York

New York City’s “Sidewalk Law” of 2003 famously imposed on landowners the obligation to repair sidewalk defects and to clean up snow and ice or face the wrath of the plaintiff passers-by who populate our fair city. In recent years, the courts have refined the definition of sidewalk to exclude curbstones and tree wells. Now, an appellate court in Manhattan has further restricted the area that must be repaired and maintained by the adjacent landowner. The court ruled last week that the pedestrian ramps that are carved into the sidewalks at most intersections are not part of the sidewalk for purposes of the Sidewalk Law.

Specifically, in Ortiz v. City of New York, plaintiff, who tripped and fell in a hole at the edge of a sidewalk pedestrian ramp, sued the City of New York and the abutting property owner and managing agent. In moving for summary judgment, the City contended that it had not received prior written notice of the defect and that, in any event, it was not liable under Admin Code §7-210 (the abutting owner liability ordinance). The abutting owner and managing agent cross-moved for summary judgment, contending that a corner pedestrian ramp was not within the meaning of the term “sidewalk” as used in Admin Code §7-210.

In opposition, plaintiff submitted the affidavit of an expert, who stated that there was a height differential of 1½ to 2 inches between the base of the ramp and the street due to the absence of a protective curb, and that the City improperly paved the street next to the ramp.

The Supreme Court, New York County, denied the City’s motion, finding issues of fact as to whether the City created the defect when it repaved the street. The trial court also denied the owner and agent’s motions, holding that the pedestrian ramp was part of the sidewalk pursuant to Admin Code §7-210.

On appeal, the Appellate Division, First Department, stated that Admin Code §7-210 must be strictly construed. Therefore, if the City intended to shift liability for accidents on pedestrian ramps, the City needed to use specific and clear language in the Code to accomplish this goal. Finding no such language, the Appellate Division ruled that the abutting landowner’s liability does not extend to corner pedestrian ramps.

The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s ruling and dismissed the complaint and cross-claims against the landowner and managing agent. The lower court’s ruling as to the City was affirmed.