Friedman, Hirschen & Miller, LLP

A recent news report from New York was certainly eye-catching: A young man remains in critical condition, following a stairwell collapse during an early-morning rooftop party in the East Village.

The accident

As reported by CBS Local, the victim fell at least two stories in the accident around 1:30 in the morning at the top of the seven-story building at 159 Second Ave., near East 10th Street. Even though the roof was closed to any individual, approximately 50 college students gathered on the roof to socialize. The get-together dampened when one of the party-goers crashed through multiple marble stairwells. "He was drunk-he was jumping on the stairs and he fell through the stairs," a witness said.

The victim's friends were grateful that he survived, but were questioning their own safety. "At the end, stairs-even if you jump on them-I expect not to fall through them," the friend said. The city Building Department was investigating the accident.

Legal questions and relevant rules and considerations

This incident raises any number of legal issues: Did the assembled crowd assume any risk of injury by gathering on the roof of an abandoned building? Did the fact that the injured party was "drunk" mean that he contributed to the accident and by implication his own injuries? What legal liability is the owner of the building exposed to?

It would appear from the news report that the 50 people gathered on the rooftop were mere trespassers since the area was "off limits." In the overwhelming majority of states, a landowner owes no duty of care to a trespasser except in a few narrow and well-circumscribed instances. New York is one of a minority of states that holds a landowner responsible for injuries to any reasonably foreseeable entrants on the land, including unwanted trespassers. This means that a person who enters another's property without legal right or permission, and sustains an injury, can sue the land possessor for that injury for failing to exercise a reasonable standard of care.

Legislation has been introduced in the New York Assembly in recent years to adopt the longstanding liability rule across the country that a land possessor owes no duty of care to a trespasser except to refrain from causing harm to a trespasser by an intentional, unlawful, willful, or wanton act. It is also consistent with New York common law prior to the state's adoption of a unitary standard of reasonable care. Such legislation, however, has failed to be enacted.

Anyone who has been injured while in a building owned by another should seek the immediate advice of an experienced New York personal injury attorney to evaluate the complex legal issues involved.