Cellar Doors: A Hidden New York City Sidewalk Hazard

Cellar Doors: A Hidden New York City Sidewalk Hazard


{3:20 minutes to read} Sidewalk Cellar doors can be hazardous to your well-being!

You probably have seen lots of these on New York City sidewalks and may have even worried that they could collapse, if you stepped on them. A more realistic risk is that you could trip over an open cellar door and fall.

Most sidewalk cellar doors cover a stairway into the basement of a ground-floor business. The business moves supplies to and from the basement via the cellar door. When the doors are closed, they are flush with the sidewalk. When they are open, they are perpendicular to the sidewalk and are only a few feet high. If the sidewalk is crowded or if it is dark outside, pedestrians may not see the open cellar door. They could trip and fall, or worse—they might even fall down the basement stairs.

Building owners must make sure that pedestrians are warned when cellar doors are open and thus, prevent falls. Under the law, the owner is responsible if a pedestrian is injured. The best way to protect pedestrians is for the owner to have an employee stand by the open doors, warn people of the hazard, and usher them away.  Although that precaution may seem obvious, many owners often fail to take any safety measures when they open their cellar doors.

Here are two recent examples of personal injuries caused by open cellar doors:

  1. A woman was reading a menu posted in a restaurant’s window, which was directly over an open cellar door. She did not see the opening in the sidewalk and fell into it. She suffered severe leg injuries.
  2. A visually impaired man intended to enter a restaurant. A restaurant employee mistakenly directed him toward the open cellar doors, and he fell. His leg was injured and later required surgery.   

In New York City, property owners are obligated to keep the sidewalk in front of their property safe. If the property owner creates a sidewalk hazard, such as an open cellar door, and someone is injured as a result, the owner is legally responsible to pay the injured person compensation.

Of course, pedestrians should pay attention to where they are walking and avoid dangers. Unfortunately, open cellar doors are not always obvious or avoidable.

Please call us at 212-809-4293 or email us at info@KatterLaw.com with questions or comments.