November 13, 2023

New York’s Parking Structure Problem: Who Is Liable?

By Jonathan Damashek

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With car ownership in the U.S. higher than ever, it’s no surprise that parking is a significant issue in densely-packed New York City. Parking garages and lots are utilized by millions of New Yorkers every day, but the age of these structures combined with the increased weight of newer cars presents potential safety issues — even recently resulting in tragedy.

In the spring of 2023, a Manhattan parking garage collapsed, killing one person and injuring several others. The collapse triggered the shuttering of other garages in the city and has ignited a critical conversation about premises liability and the obligations of facility owners to maintain their property.

New York Parking Structures: More at Risk of Collapse?

Following the garage collapse in April, city officials quickly performed sweeping inspections of dozens of other garages. The sweep resulted in the closing of three garages and sections of 12 others closed off until they could be made safe. A New York Times investigation revealed a troubling pattern of inaction on the part of the city, which had received many reports of potentially unsafe buildings but let the problems persist.

Crumbling and cracked concrete, exposed reinforcements, and exceeding capacity are common problems plaguing the city’s parking garages. Several garages have also been cited for installing lifts without a permit, allowing the structures to store more cars, potentially at the cost of exceeding safe weight limits.  The Manhattan garage collapse has brought attention to widespread problems with NYC parking structures, raising questions about the effectiveness of the city’s code enforcement and liability for damages in these cases.

What Are a Parking Garage Owner’s Legal Obligations?

Parking garage owners and property managers must keep their property safe by ensuring all structures on are sound and quickly addressing potential hazards.

Property owners must have their property regularly inspected for potential dangers and promptly correct any issues they find.  The collapsed Manhattan parking garage had four open violations, with one dating back to 2003. If it is determined that the parking garage’s owners failed to maintain the structure and that negligence caused the collapse, they may be held liable for the injuries and loss of life that occurred.

What Does it Take to Prove a Premises Liability Claim?

Investigation into what caused the Manhattan garage collapse is still ongoing. However, initial reports suggest that the weight of cars and deterioration due to the age of the structure were likely factors. Premises liability law may be able to help families who suffered injuries as a result of these factors take legal recourse.

Premises liability holds property owners accountable for damages arising from an injury suffered by anyone who visits, lives, or works on their property. This responsibility extends to parking structures such as garages, lots, and surrounding sidewalks.

An injured party must successfully prove the following elements in a premises liability claim:

  • The injured party was owed a duty of care from the property owner or manage
  • The duty was breached by failing to maintain the property
  • The breach of duty directly caused the injury
  • The injured party suffered damage due to the injury

When someone is injured on another person’s property due to negligence, the injured party may be entitled to compensation for damages. These damages can include medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.

NYC Parking Garage Inspection Laws

The NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) regulations state parking garages must be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure public safety. Parking garage owners must have an inspection of their property conducted by a licensed professional engineer at least once every six years. After the condition assessment report is filed submitted, repairs must be completed within 90 days.

Once repairs are finished, an amended report must be submitted within two weeks. Property owners can be fined and penalized if they fail to comply. However, as evidenced by the Manhattan garage collapse, violations are not always enforced promptly. When deterioration and excess weight are allowed to persist without sanctions, the results can be disastrous.

How Is a Commercial Parking Garage Inspected?

A qualified parking structure inspector will conduct several levels of inspection before writing their report:

  • Preliminary review of the building’s history and repair records
  • Visual inspection for signs of deterioration, water damage, drainage or ventilation issues, and adequate lighting
  • Structural elements inspection of columns, beams, and floors for any signs of distress or corrosion;
  • Material testing to assess the strength and durability of the materials used in the structure;
  • Load capacity evaluation of weight imposed on the structure and possible environmental factors such as wind

Can the City Be Liable for Parking Garage Injuries?

While parking garage collapses are rare, injuries occurring in a parking garage can be much more common. Bad lighting, slick surfaces, and uneven pavement are frequent dangers that can lead to severe injuries. While commercial parking garage owners can be held responsible through a premises liability claim, the law gets complicated if you were injured in a parking structure or other building owned by the city.

NYC DOT operates municipal parking structures in all five boroughs. Suppose an injury occurs in a municipal parking facility. In that case, victims should act quickly and retain an attorney as soon as possible, as these cases are complex and should be litigated by a professional with proven experience.

What about Parking Lot Injuries?

As with parking garage owners, parking lot owners, operators, and managers are legally obligated to keep their premises safe and up to code. When they fail to do so, injury victims can hold them accountable for negligence.

What’s Next for New York’s Parking Structures?

Car owners are keeping their vehicles longer than ever, and New York’s parking problems aren’t going away anytime soon. While the city grapples with the sheer volume of cars and repairing aging parking structures, New Yorkers may find themselves at risk of injury in both commercial and municipal parking facilities.

The personal injury attorney of Hecht, Kleeger & Damashek P.C. will continue to track developments of the Manhattan parking garage collapse and the legal implications for injury victims.