A 59-year-old New York City man died Thursday after falling through a glass door while shoveling snow in front of the building where he worked as a doorman.

The New York City Police Department reported Miguel Gonzalez was shoveling the steps of the Manhattan building when he slipped and fell through the glass door, several local media outlets reported. The impact with broken glass caused “severe lacerations” to his neck and head. He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

“We see he is bleeding all over and we see the glass cracked and all of that,” witness Mike Gacevic, a maintenance worker at a nearby building, told DNAinfo. “I just saw him bleeding on the floor. I saw two or three ladies and a guy around trying to help him.”

It is unclear what type of glass the door contained, though multiple industry experts 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. Safety glass is required in glass doors located in areas susceptible to human impact, per the federal safety glazing standard ANSI Z97.1. However, Eastman Chemical Company global applications manager Julia Schimmelpenningh points out that 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.

“The beauty of safety glass is you can’t necessarily tell it’s there, the downside is you need to be vigilant on traceability and labels to know what you have installed,” says Schimmelpenningh. “It’s such an awful tragedy. Something that likely could have been prevented with awareness, training and renovation requirements in the federal mandate.”

John Kent of the Safety Glazing Certification Council (SGCC) says this kind of event is why the glass industry has been so diligent in supporting and developing safety glass, which became more prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s and has been regularly improved upon since.

“SGCC and the industry has long promoted the use of safety glazing, which is designed to prevent these types of situations,” says Kent. “The ANSI Z97.1 standard has been continually upgraded to bolster the performance characteristics of safety glazing and is regularly evaluated from a human impact standpoint.”

Hector Figueroa, president of the doorman’s union, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, said in a statement that it is “deeply saddened by the loss” of Gonzalez.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and children and all those who knew and cared about him, including his coworkers and the residents of his building,” said Figueroa. “Our union family will do all we can to support Miguel’s family in this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers also go out to all members working hard to keep us safe during this blizzard and every day.”

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.