The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has told USGNN.com™ it will review the circumstances around the tragic death of Miguel Gonzalez, who died last week after falling through a glass door. Gonzales, a 59-year-old New York City man, fell while shoveling snow in front of the building where he worked as a doorman.
CPSC spokesperson Patty Davis told USGNN.com™ the commission will be looking into the circumstances to determine if the sidelite, the part through which Gonzales fell, is covered by CPSC’s 16 CFR Part 1201 federal safety standard. CPSC will seek to determine whether the sidelite required safety glazing.
The New York City Police Department reported Gonzales was shoveling the steps of the Manhattan building when he slipped and fell through the glass door. The impact with broken glass caused “severe lacerations” to his neck and head. He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Currently, it’s unclear what type of glass the door contained. Multiple industry experts, though, tell USGNN.com that, based on what they can see in a video posted by a local NBC station, the broken glass doesn’t appear to be tempered or a safety glazing material, which would be mandated by the federal code. However, the Federal code is not retroactive to cover glass installed prior to 1977.
The building, which houses many Mount Sinai Health System doctors and residents, was built in 1963, according to information from the Mount Sinai Real Estate Division.
Scopelitis partner Kim Mann, who provides legal counsel to associations in the glass and glazing industry, offered the following analysis:
“The absence of tempered or laminated glass in that location presents a number of inter-related liability exposure issues for the building owner:
- Does the NYC building code or CPSC’s 16 C.F.R. Part 1201 federal safety standard require safety glazing in that application? (It very likely does.)
- If “yes,” was safety glazing required when that broken glazing was installed? If so, the building owner faces serious liability exposure if there was a violation, very likely here.
- If “no,” does the NYC code require building owners to “replace” non-safety glazing with safety glazing? If so, again, the building owner faces serious liability exposure.
- If not obligated to replace by state or local building code, under common law principles of tort liability, would a “reasonable building owner” be expected to replace the non-safety glazing with safety glazing given the known prevailing conditions at the location and the use and human traffic to which the door/sidelight assembly would be subjected? If “yes,” it is probable the building owner could be found “negligent” in allowing the non-safety glass to remain in place in that location.
Assuming this is an older building and the glass could have been installed before any safety glazing laws existed. If so, the Scenario #4 issues would seem relevant here. The lesson for that building owner: do not just assume, as a building owner, that because the local building code may not require you to replace legally-installed non-safety glass in an entrance door with safety glazing, you have no liability for an accident involving lacerative injuries or death when you do not replace it. Compliance with the building code is a minimum requirement and not an absolute defense in most jurisdictions.”
USGNN.com™ will update this story and/or provide a follow-up as more information is made available.