The Turkewitz Law Firm

New York Personal Injury Attorney ♦ Medical Malpractice ♦ Trial Lawyer

Serving Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Rockland, Dutchess, Westchester, Nassau & Suffolk Counties
Eric Turkewitz
228 E. 45 St., 17th Floor
New York, NY 10017
Phone: (212) 983-5900

Site of the grate collapse:
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Premises Liability against Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Broken Ankle requiring fusion, and a broken wrist, were among the personal injuries

Verdict: $1,300,000 verdict (two trials, in 2010 and 2012, and one appeal, in 2013)

This premises liability case resulted from a metal grate that collapsed, at the Bayonne Bridge tollhouse administration building. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey owns, uses and maintains the building.

The plaintiff, who was an off-duty Port Authority gardener, had been standing on the grate with a supervisor next to an open window trying to “fish” his keys out of a locked employee break room with a jerry-rigged fishing pole.

As he was walking off the grate, the grate panel that he was walking on collapsed, plunging the plaintiff nine feet down into an access pit abutting a building.

Testimony at trial demonstrated that the grates covered the access pit had a hatch, as they were designed to allow heavy machinery and furniture to be brought into and out of the building basement. They were, therefore, designed to be walked upon.

Expert testimony was also elicited at trial that the grates were misaligned and hanging onto the support beam by no more than a ¼ inch before they shifted, and had been that way for years. The Port Authority should have discovered the misalignment in the annual inspections. Essentially, this was an accident waiting to happen.

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Medical Illustration by Anatomical Justice

The plaintiff suffered a broken wrist and a very badly broken ankle that ultimately required four surgeries. The last surgery was a fusion of the ankle joint.

The case involved two trials in federal court (Eastern District of New York) that ultimately resulted in $1,300,000 in personal injury damages.

The appeal was necessary because the jury found the plaintiff to be 40% at fault. On the post-trial motion to the trial judge, we argued that he could not be found to be comparatively negligent because it was unforeseeable to a layman that a structural collapse would take place. The trial judge disagreed, so the plaintiff appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appellate court reversed, thus finding that the Port Authority was 100% responsible for the accident. The plaintiff couldn’t be negligent because the collapse wasn’t foreseeable to a person such as him.

After taking into account a set-off for Social Security disability payments, and adding back in interest on the award that the Port Authority owed to him, the plaintiff ultimately collected approximately $1,454,000.

The case was subsequently analyzed at the New York Injury Cases Blog.

Updated: 3/2/2016
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