Loose Manhole Covers and Municipal Liability in New York

workers repairing a manhole

There are 350,000 manholes across all five boroughs of New York City, and although accidents involving manholes aren’t as common as some other types of accidents, that doesn’t mean they don’t happen. Cars driving down New York City streets and pedestrians walking along New York City sidewalks don’t typically expect to encounter loose or sunken manholes, but when they do, accidents can occur.

If a driver gets into a traffic accident or a pedestrian slips and falls on a loose or sunken manhole, it may be possible to hold the city responsible for negligence. If you were injured in the accident, you may be entitled to compensation to cover the cost of medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering caused by the accident. However, it can be challenging to get the city to compensate you, which is why having an attorney in your corner can be hugely beneficial.

Loose Manhole Covers in New York

Manholes cover access points to underground tunnels that city workers use for a variety of functions. Manholes give workers access to underground water pipelines, sewage systems, phone lines, and other city utilities. Manhole covers are thick and extremely heavy metal discs. In some cases, they weigh as much as 300 pounds. When placed properly, they allow traffic to pass safely along a roadway without obstruction.

However, issues can arise if a manhole is accidentally left open by a city utility worker, or if the disc is improperly placed and doesn’t fully cover the hole. It is also possible for manhole discs to become dislodged due to traffic vibrations. Manhole caps are also sometimes dislodged by vandals. There are a variety of reasons why a manhole cover might be left open or improperly placed, but if a city worker was at fault, then the city itself could be responsible for any damages that occur because of it.

Sunken Manholes

When road workers install manholes along roadways, they are supposed to do their best to keep the manhole entrance flush with the street so that incoming traffic can pass smoothly over the top of the manhole when it is not in use. Sometimes, though, manholes are constructed several inches or more below the street level, causing drivers to dip into the sunken manhole as they drive down a street. The same can occur with storm drains that are constructed below street level. When manholes and drains are not flush with the rest of the street, accidents and vehicle damage can occur.

Types of Accidents Caused by Loose Manhole Covers or Sunken Manholes

Some of the most common types of accidents caused by loose manhole covers or sunken manholes and drains are:

  • Traffic-related accidents – Although most drivers don’t expect to encounter a loose or sunken manhole on a New York City street, it can happen. When a car passes over a manhole cover that has been improperly placed, it can cause the cover to slide further out of place or even to become airborne, which can cause serious injuries to motorists or nearby pedestrians. A car tire can also fall into a manhole that has been left open, causing the vehicle to become lodged in the manhole and unable to back out. If a driver is accelerating rapidly, this could even cause a car to flip. It could be even more dangerous for a motorcyclist or an e-scooter rider.
  • Slip and fall accidents – Manholes exist on sidewalks too. If a manhole has been left open, completely or partially, by a city worker, a pedestrian could easily fall in, especially in low visibility conditions, such as at night. This could lead to severe injuries, including broken and fractured bones, traumatic brain injuries, spinal injuries, and even paralysis.
  • Occupational injuries – Construction workers often work along roads and walkways in New York City and can fall victim to a loose manhole cover during their jobs. These types of workers often spend hours near manholes and drains, and if left unsecured, they can be very hazardous to anyone in the vicinity.

How Do You Prove Liability in a Loose Manhole Cover or Sunken Manhole Case

Proving liability in a loose or sunken manhole case isn’t straightforward or easy. Many parties could be at fault. Whether you were a motorist who was injured in a traffic-related accident caused by a loose manhole cover or a sunken manhole, or a pedestrian injured in a slip and fall accident, you have to be able to prove negligence.

In many cases, the city may be held liable. If a city utility worker did not properly replace the manhole cover, or if the local authorities didn’t inspect roadways to ensure that all manholes were properly secured, then you could claim municipal liability. However, it could also be the fault of a repair crew, if the manhole was undergoing repairs and the repair crew did not post warning signage to avoid the immediate area. Investigating manhole accidents can be challenging, and identifying the at-fault parties isn’t always simple. That’s why it is imperative to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney

Compensation for Loose Manhole Cover or Sunken Manhole Accident in New York

If you were injured in an accident involving a loose manhole cover or sunken manhole that occurred because of the city’s (or another party’s) negligence, then you could be entitled to compensation to help you cover the cost of:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost income due to inability to work
  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering

In New York, the statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits is three years. This means you have three years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit in court. It’s best to get this process started as quickly as possible by filing a personal injury claim with the appropriate entity and attempting to negotiate a settlement out of court. Having a personal injury lawyer negotiate on your behalf can help to maximize the amount of compensation you receive.

How Finz & Finz Can Help

If you were in an accident caused by a loose manhole cover or sunken manhole, contact the New York City car accident lawyers at Finz & Finz, P.C. Call us today at (855) TOP-FIRM, chat with us live, or fill out a contact form for a case review.

  • About the Author
  • Latest Posts

Finz & Finz, P.C. is a New York and Long Island personal injury law firm based out of Mineola, NY. It was founded in 1984 and is highly rated, with many honors and awards of excellence.