Tragedy struck Manhattan's west side last Sunday when a portion of terracotta windowsill broke off of the Esplanade Luxury Senior Residences eight stories above the street. The piece came crashing down onto a 60-year-old resident and her granddaughter, 2.
Despite emergency surgery to repair the damage at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, the girl was declared dead the following morning. Her grandmother also was injured, but survived. The little girl had celebrated her second birthday with her family only last month.
The accident occurred on West End Avenue. The woman and her granddaughter were near the building when, for unknown reasons, the masonry ledge sheared off and struck them both. An eyewitness who was taking out the trash shortly after the fatal accident saw the toddler laid across a bench with a severe wound to her forehead.
On Monday, workers completed work on a scaffold at the site of the tragedy to prevent further injuries to passersby from loose debris.
Since 1980, New York City has had mandatory inspections of facades every five years on buildings higher than six stories. Despite these precautions, nine individuals lost their lives due to falling objects in the five-year period from 2009-2014. Not all of the deaths were from crumbling architecture; some were attributed to construction materials or tools.
The most recent inspection of the 14-story building's facade was done in 2011 and no defects were noted. Typically, about 13,500 buildings are inspected from ground level using binoculars. Inspectors then choose a representative section to scrutinize more closely. More stringent inspections of entire buildings have been deemed impractical due to time and expense.
The Queens engineer who inspected the facade in 2011 could not remember if he had closely analyzed the section that broke away or not.
The structure is part of a group of high-end nursing homes run by a Long Island family. There are indications that this building was not in tip-top shape. In the past 10 years, the facility racked up scores of code violations. City records indicate that many of them had to do with the building's elevators. The owners were fined nearly $7,500 for failing to timely repair or maintain the facade in the past.
Dangerous property conditions can result in tragic accidents and may result in premises liability litigation.
Source: New York Times, "Girl, 2, Dies After Being Struck by Falling Piece of Windowsill in Manhattan," Matt A. V. Chaban and Rick Rojas, May. 18, 2015