FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2009-11-03
Each year, it is estimated that more than 4000 children are injured by falling from a window. While the number of incidents normally spike during the summer months when more people open their windows seeking relief from the heat, just as many people open their windows for the same reasons during the winter months, especially if they live in an upper floor apartment and cannot control the heat.
Open windows in summer or winter can prove too much of an attraction to children. All it takes is a parent looking away for one minute before a child can fall out of an open apartment window. Some parents mistakenly believe a screen will provide enough protection for their children, but even the weight of a small pet - let alone a child - can be enough to dislodge the screen.
New York City Requires Window Guards
To protect children from this danger, New York City passed an ordinance requiring all apartment buildings with three or more units to install window guards in apartments with children ages 10 and younger. The window guards are basically metal bars that go over the windows. The city ordinance requires them to be installed on every single window in the apartment, except those that serve as fire escapes.
To ensure that units with children living in them have the proper window guards, landlords and/or apartment building managers are required to provide a form to new residents within 30 days of moving in that asks whether they have any children under the age of 11 living in the apartment. This same form must be given each year between January 1 and 16th to all residents in the building. If the landlord does not ask if any children meeting the age requirements live in the apartment, the landlord is breaking the law.
Parents have an equally important legal duty to notify the landlord if they have children 10 years or younger. If the parent does not return the form alerting the landlord, the landlord will not know that he or she needs to install the window guards.
Installing the Guards Properly
It is also important that the correct window guards are installed properly. The city Health Department sets requirements on the types of window guards that must be used. Also, the window guard will do no good if it is not installed correctly. For example, if the window's frame is rotted or unstable, it must be repaired before the guard can be installed. The window guard should be installed tightly with screws on both sides. L-shaped stops also should be installed to prevent the window from opening above or below the window guard anymore than 4.5 inches - or enough for a child to squeeze his or her head through.
Once the window guards are in place, they should not be removed or tampered with for any reason. If there is a problem with them, the landlord or the city Health Department should be contacted.
Legal Options After a Fall
Even though the law requires landlords to install window guards, not all landlords obey the law. As a result, children are injured far too often. Just this past August, a one-year-old child fell out of a 4th story window in an apartment in Brooklyn and died. The same week, an eight-year-old fell out of a 7th story window in a Bronx apartment, but luckily survived the fall with minor injuries. In both cases, there were no window guards in place to protect the children.
Falls may also occur if:
- Window guards are improperly installed;
- Window guards are tampered with or removed after installation;
- The wrong type of window guards are installed; or
- Window guards are defective.
If your child has fallen and the landlord did not properly install the appropriate window guard, you may have a viable legal claim against him or her. Landlords have an affirmative legal duty to find out if any children covered by the ordinance live in their building. If they do, then the landlord must install and maintain the proper window guards.
If your child was able to fall because the window guard was defective, you may have a claim against the manufacturer, distributor or seller of the defective product. Those who produce and sell products to the public have a duty to ensure that their products are safe for public use. When products are unsafe and someone is injured as a result, the injured person may bring a products liability claim against those within the chain of distribution.
Additionally, if you left your child with a babysitter or friend who removed or tampered with the window guard, you also may be able to bring a claim against them for your child's injuries or death.
A child should never be injured from falling out of an apartment building window, and the laws of New York City are designed to ensure that children are protected. Despite the laws though, some children are seriously injured or even killed every year.
If your child has been harmed from a fall out of an apartment window, you may have legal options. Contact an experienced attorney today to learn more about your important legal rights.