Hit by a fence
June 14, 2013 8:28 AM   Subscribe

So I was biking home from work last night and was hit by a fence. It was very windy and a portion of the fence at Grand St. and Center St. in Manhattan blew over onto me. I'm mostly fine, a little bruised but annoyed because it tore my fancy rain jacket. I know I'm going to get a lot of IANAL responses but I wanted to see if anyone had suggestions of things I could do to possibly be remunerated for the jacket by the city. Here's a picture of the bloodthirsty fence after I extricated myself and my bike from it. Any advice much appreciated.
posted by zackola to Law & Government (18 answers total)
Pretty sure you can call this one an act of god. Trying to get any money for this from the city will just get you a laugh in the face. But, if you really want to try, give 311 a call and see if they can direct you somewhere.
posted by greta simone at 8:41 AM on June 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

It looks like it might have been put up by the owners of the building. Is the building getting renovated? Sue the building owner or the construction company! Unless your jacket is going to cost many thousands to replace it's probably not worth your time to pursue legal action- unless you got hurt.
posted by mareli at 8:51 AM on June 14, 2013

Best answer: Here is a page where you can download a form and file your claim, if the fence belonged to the city. It doesn't require that you have a lawyer.

From the page:

"Claims against the City of New York are filed through the Comptroller's Office Bureau of Law & Adjustment. Under Section 50-e of the General Municipal Law, all tort claims against the City of New York should be in writing on the enclosed forms or in a similar format. The Notice of Claim must be Notarized and served Personally or by Certified Mail within ninety (90) days from the date of the occurrence"
posted by logonym at 8:55 AM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know I'm going to get a lot of IANAL responses

You will not get that sort of response from me because IAAL. IANYL. TINLA.

You really need a NY lawyer to evaluate this sort of issue, and unless this is some unbelievably fancy rain jacket, it is not worth the time and expense of even having a consultation with a lawyer.

I think that you likely have no remedy. Did the city even put up the fence? If it is not a city fence, no way on earth is it their problem. If it is their fence, I think you still have a problem. You would have to show that the fence fell down as a result the city's negligence. I do not know if that it is the case here. I would think that the fence has to be erected so that it can sustain some wind, but I do not know what the reasonable expectation of wind resistance would be. I do not think it would be reasonable to expect it to withstand hurricane force winds, for example.

I predict the city will tell you to pound sand. They will do this because they think they are not responsible and that you will not sue. They are probably right on both scores.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:57 AM on June 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think you'll win in court either but there is world class pun potential when the city attorney stands up and says "John Q Attorney, for the de-fence".
posted by dr_dank at 9:17 AM on June 14, 2013 [35 favorites]

What sounds easier to you?

- Chalk it up to a loss, go to Century 21 or Paragon or wherever for a new jacket. Problem solved!

- Find the correct city department to lodge a complaint with. Hope they actually pick up the phone and don't laugh and hang up on you. Obtain and fill out a pile of paperwork (likely either from a not user friendly website or an office you have to visit in person). File it properly, which will likely require a personal day from work to get it all notarized and present it in person at the correct office which will certainly not have weekend hours. Hope that something eventually comes of all this. Six months from now, get a check for the $200 or however much your jacket cost. Add to this that you also still have to go buy a new jacket. Problem maybe solved?

I guess it depends how much you enjoy red tape and city bureaucracy.
posted by Sara C. at 9:51 AM on June 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, I'll second that said fence might not be city property, anyway, and you might do a bunch of red tape only to find out that you're barking up the wrong tree and now you have to sue some contractor. Which will require a lawyer.
posted by Sara C. at 9:52 AM on June 14, 2013

Please don't give up just because something might be difficult or impossible.
posted by amtho at 10:04 AM on June 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Please don't give up just because something might be difficult or impossible.

Yeah, man. The fence wasn't properly secured. You could have been very badly hurt. It could have trampled a child or a little old lady and caused a death.

Even if it ends up that they don't comp you for your jacket, at least go on record somewhere so that the city of NY knows the fences now have a taste for human flesh.
posted by phunniemee at 10:06 AM on June 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

If you're just doing this to look out for hypothetical future situations where something like this could happen and hurt someone for real, you should go back to the construction site where this happened and look for the big "IF YOU SEE UNSAFE CONDITIONS AT THIS WORKSITE, PLEASE CALL [phone number]." Call that number. Tell them what happened. Focus on "one of your fences blew down in the wind because it wasn't properly secured" and less on "my jacket was ripped".
posted by Sara C. at 10:23 AM on June 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

That looked like a temporary fence such as builders erect on a construction site. It might belong to a company that would be easier to deal with than the city. What is/was the fence surrounding?
posted by Cranberry at 10:39 AM on June 14, 2013

Surely small claims (such as a new jacket, bike repairs) can be handled without an attorney if it turns out to be a contractor's fence. Is that fundamentally wrong, Tanizaki?
posted by jsturgill at 10:54 AM on June 14, 2013

Is that fundamentally wrong, Tanizaki?

A person always has the right to represent himself. I think that is a fool's errand, though. I have a federal case where earlier today the judge issued an order denying four of the pro se plaintiff's motions before I even got around to filing oppositions. The order basically said, "read the procedural rules and follow them, you don't make any sense". In my experience, lay people who represent themselves generally make arguments about fairness and how they think should be rather than what the law actually is. I often feel sorry for them. If I ever needed to file or defend a suit, I would certainly not represent myself.

The key issue is going to be whether whomever put up the fence did so negligently. None of us can evaluate that here, and it would entail a fair bit of discovery in litigation. That sounds like a lot of time and effort to have "my day in court" over the matter of a (maybe) $100 jacket.

In this case, there is a claims process for the OP to follow, so I recommend that it be followed. If the city rejects the claim (assuming it is the city's fence), i would let it go.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:31 AM on June 14, 2013

Fences should not just fall down. Even if it's windy, a structure and materials on a site should be secured as to maintain the safety of the public. I'm not sure who's at fault, but the contractor or fence subcontractor should have liability insurance to safeguard against injury, although it's probably cheaper for them to pay you to go away than involve insurance. The fence company that installed it looks like it has it's contact information on the fence. You may wish to contact them and say you were hit by their fence falling over and see what happens. They may view it as getting off easy (and hopefully learn to correct the problem so this doesn't happen again or cause worse damage). Just as it's easier for you not to go to court, it's easier for them not to as well. How big of a pain do you want to be?

At the very least I would call 311 and the fence company to complain in the hopes they support it better and so no one else gets injured. Calling 311 would also be recorded in the public record that a complaint was made.
posted by yeti at 12:38 PM on June 14, 2013

Tanizaki, I thought the entire point of small claims court was to have a process that did not require attorneys to correct issues surrounding small sums of money. I also thought the process was considerably less formal, and with extra leeway given to laypersons. Is that wrong?

Mods: I don't think this is a derail. If the fence is put up by a private company, and they don't reimburse him for the jacket, and he can afford a few dollars and a day off to go to court... it seems like a reasonable course of action to take.
posted by jsturgill at 12:51 PM on June 14, 2013

Has anyone suggested yet that, especially if it's a private company's fence, you could just ASK for compensation?

Stranger things have happened.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:58 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's definitely a city fence w/ the 311 unsafe sticker thing on. Reported. Will fill out claims form and see what happens but not expect anything. Thanks y'all.
posted by zackola at 2:32 PM on June 14, 2013

You can always take it to the news...
posted by BlueHorse at 7:14 PM on June 14, 2013

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