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New York City’s building code requires that “interior stairs” of buildings be kept free from obstructions, and a person injured due to obstructed stairs could sue the landlord or building owner for damages caused by the obstruction in a slip and fall. The Building Code identifies many different types of stairs, such as “interior stairs,” “exterior stairs,” and “access stairs.” Up to now, the courts have not had much occasion to decide where sidewalk trapdoor stairs fit into this scheme, but in a recent decision from Bronx County, the judge ruled that they are not interior stairs and dismissed the case of a man who was injured when he slipped and fell on the stairs.
The plaintiff in Bautista v. 85th Columbus Corp. was performing work that required him to enter the basement of a building on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan, which was accessible through a sidewalk trapdoor. The tenant who ran a deli on the first floor and was leasing the first floor and the basement had installed a conveyor belt to move deliveries to the basement. The plaintiff claimed he slipped on the stairs and got his hand caught in the conveyor belt machinery, which obstructed most of the stairway.
The New York City Building Code, found here or in the New York Administrative Code, sets forth the requirements for different types of stairs, and section 27-375 covers interior stairs. Interior stairs are defined as stairs within a building that serve as a required exit. Exterior stairs are open to the outdoor air and serve as a required exit. Access stairs, on the other hand, are stairs between two floors that do not serve as a required exit. Sidewalk trapdoor stairs don’t fit neatly into any of those definitions, but the judge ruled they are not interior stairs because they don’t serve as a required exit. The judge stated that these types of stairs are more akin to access stairs, although they do in fact connect the interior of the building with the outside world, rather than providing access between floors. In any event, the judge was also not convinced that the stairs were left in a slippery condition to cause the accident and dismissed the case.