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Window Washer Accidents in NYC

Author Yuriy Moshes

Although living in NYC certainly has its appeal full of bright lights and living in a city full of mile high skyscrapers and buildings, inevitably, this means that a person is going to be more prone to a window washer accident.  It is not surprising that window washing accidents are more common than one would think.  Businesses, property owners and managers, and building maintenance all want their windows clean, particularly buildings with more than one high rise window. 

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    Obviously, with more windows, the greater the chances that a window washing accident may occur, whether it is a pedestrian down below crossing the street near one of the buildings being cleaned, or whether it is window washer themselves.  This article shall address the various issues related to window washing accidents, and the importance of talking with an accident attorney.

    High Rise Window Washers Risk Their Lives to Keep the City Sparkling

    Although you may not think so, window washing accidents occur more frequently than you’d expect, and when they do, they often result in serious injury or even death.  Although you’d think that there would be various state and federal safety regulations to protect a window cleaning business working a high rise building, accidents unfortunately still occur and there is real danger involved in the window cleaning business.

    According to NBC News, there has been at least one high rise window washer death per year between 2010 and 2014 in the U.S., according to the International Window Cleaning Association.  If you break it down, that’s with an estimated 1.5 million “exposures,” whereby workers are on the sides of office buildings, per year during that period.

    Fatalities, however, have gone up in recent years.  According to a study conducted by the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA), in which OSHA tracked accidents over for a fifteen year period, there were 88 reported window washing accidents, of which, 62 resulted in actual deaths.  

    Dangers to Window Washers

    Window washers are responsible for cleaning the glass windows of homes, offices, stores, and high-rise buildings for building owners.  They often work on suspended platforms, and therefore are susceptible to scaffold accidents, particularly when it comes to hazardous weather conditions, such as wind and rain.  

    window washer accident

    Since washers often work high off the ground, generally hundreds of feet in the air, a fall of 50 or 60 feet would be absolutely fatal.  If a scaffold disconnects or breaks and a worker falls hundreds of feet, this would result in serious injury or death.  Even if the safety equipment works properly and prevents falling, there are still other risks to window washers.  This may include 

    • Being exposed to caustic chemicals, like oxalic and hydrofluoric acids, which can touch your skin, eyes, or that you can inhale.
    • Exposure to excessive winds.  Any wind over 20 miles per hour is dangerous.   
    • Repetitive trauma or excessive overuse
    • Overexertion, resulting in injury to their arm, back, or neck
    • Mental trauma from dangerous conditions, developing potential PTSD
    • Heat exhaustion from being outside in the sun for too long

    If you are a window washer and do sustain one of the injuries above, it is important to talk with an attorney to discuss a possible workers compensation claim.  

    Dangers to Pedestrians

    In addition to the high rise window washer themselves, there is obvious danger to the pedestrians down below as well.  All of the window washing tools used by window washers need to be secured and double-checked to make sure accidents do not happen. Even a small, light-weight item, after falling several hundred feet, can become lethal to the men and women walking along the city sidewalks in New York City.

    On 03/09/02, 10 pedestrians were seriously injured, with some even being killed, in downtown Chicago after scaffolding equipment, or about 10,000 lbs of equipment, collapsed from the skyscraper and fell on top of the 10 pedestrians.  This happened in front of the famous John Hancock Building.  As a result, the 10 pedestrians reached a global settlement of $75 million dollars for their personal injury and wrongful death claims.  

    Although $75 million dollars is a lot of money, it was easily obtained.  Over 100 depositions of experts, management company, architects and structural engineers were conducted.  Accordingly, if you are a pedestrian and do sustain an injury, it is very important to talk with a skilled accident attorney.  They have the know-how to be able to maximize your financial recovery.

    Window Washing Safety Regulations and Laws

    In order to promote occupational health and safety, the New York state department of labor window washing has issued certain NYC window washing requirements and NYC window cleaning laws.  

    According to Section 202 of the New York Labor Law, any owner, lessee, agent, manager and involved contractor of any public building must provide a safe means for the cleaning of windows.  This statute shall not apply to 

    1. multiple dwelling six stories or less in height located anywhere in this state
    2. any building three stores or less in height in cities, towns, or villages having a population less than 40,000
    3. the windows or exterior surfaces of any building which may be exempted under any rule adopted by the board of standards and appeals.

    This statute, however, shall apply to any and all employees of the above.  

    Accordingly, if a violation does occur and the violation results in injury or death, the accident lawyer often will use Section 202 as a basis for any potential lawsuit in their attempt to establish liability.  This includes providing proper scaffolding and fall protection equipment.

    In addition to Section 202, New York’s workers compensation laws may also be applicable to the victim of anybody involved in a window washing accident, whether it is the window washer themselves or the pedestrian down below.  

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      In order to best maximize their case, it is best to talk with an experienced accident attorney first to review their case and to determine which laws could be applicable.  

      Liability for Window Washing Injuries

      Although a person may be injured, it may not be exactly clear as to just who the liable party is.  For example, if a subcontractor accidentally causes an accident to a pedestrian, in addition to general liability and worker liability of the subcontractor, the general contractor may also be liable too.  Furthermore, the building itself may have window washing insurance, so the building could be liable too, even though none of their workers caused the accident.  

      Accordingly, it is very important to discuss your case with an experienced accident attorney to determine the different sources of potential liability and recovery.

      Compensation Issues Injured While Working

      If a person is injured while working on the job due to a window washing accident, various compensation issues may arise.  One major such issue may be insurance coverage.  If the employer does not have workers compensation insurance, as required by all employers, that does not necessarily mean that the worker will receive no benefits and the employer gets off scott free.  First off, there are penalties for employers not having insurance.  The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board could impose a penalty of up to $2,000 for each 10-day period of noncompliance or a sum up to twice the cost of compensation during that period.  Second, even if there is no insurance, the employer is still liable for the claim as if they did in fact have benefits.  Third, New York provides a state fund that will pay out benefits for those employers with no insurance.

      Another major issue may be a lack of liability coverage.  If the liable party, such as the subcontractor or general contractor, has no liability coverage in their insurance policy, it may be more difficult to obtain a settlement that you’re seeking.

      An experienced accident attorney will be able to explain your options and offer you the best solutions.

      Uninsured Workers On Property

      If you are a victim in an accident caused by uninsured workers on property, that does not mean that you cannot file a claim.   If you were on the job when it occurred, you can always file a workers compensation claim, in which case workers compensation coverage will then extend to you. 

      high rise window washer

      Or, even if you were not on the job when it happened, you may still have a personal injury claim against the uninsured workers on property.  In that case, even if the workers were insured, their employer, or the business that hired their employer may have insurance.  Or the building itself may provide coverage.  As expected, these types of claims could prove difficult, so it is best to consult with an accident attorney to determine the different avenues of coverage.

      High Rise Window Washer Accidents Cases

      When it comes to window cleaning companies, high rise window washer accidents are very real and do occur.  Below are two examples that occurred in New York City.

      In July 2020, one person was killed and three injured on Manhattan’s East Side after a window-washing machine somehow malfunctioned, then dropped onto a construction shed and scaffolding below, whereupon part of the construction shed and scaffolding then crashed down to the street and the sidewalk, injuring the victims.  All four victims are construction workers.

      In October 2001, eleven construction workers were injured, in which at least five construction workers were killed, when a 14-story-high scaffolding structure collapsed at a New York City office building near Union Square.  The amount of the scaffolding was so much that it left a pile of steel, stone, and wood that reached up to the third-floor window of the building at 215 Park Avenue South.

      The higher the window washer and scaffolding is in relation to the ground and the building, the more dangerous the accident poses to the public and pedestrians on the ground.  As much protection, precaution, or safety the window washers apply to themselves, there is no guarantee that high rise window washer accidents will not inevitably occur irregardless.  

      What Happens in the Event of Injury?

      If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself a victim of a window washing accident, there are a number of steps you should take in order to maximize your recovery and compensation.  

      One, understand and acknowledge that the life of a window washer is one of the most dangerous jobs available.   Accordingly, if you are a window washer or if you are a pedestrian and you see window washers nearby, be careful.

      Two, if you do get injured, whether you are a worker or pedestrian, seek medical treatment right away.  Not only does seeking medical treatment, sooner than later, establish the history of the accident, but it makes your injuries more credible.  If, for example, you sustained an accident but didn’t seek medical treatment until a week later, your medical treatment may be called into question for not seeking treatment sooner.

      Three, if you are able, document the scene of the accident as best as possible.  Take as many pics and videos as you are able and get witnesses names and their contact info.  The more evidence you have of what took place, the easier chance you’ll have to prove liability.

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        Four, phone call an accident attorney right away.  An accident attorney can act as your representative and speak on your behalf, instead of you giving your own statement to the insurance company.  An accident attorney can also analyze your facts and best advise you on how to proceed with your claim.

        FAQ

        How Often Do Window Washers Die?

        In recent years, despite various OSHA violations, the number of window washers who actually die per year has been increasing.  When there is a window washing accident, due to the inherent dangerous nature of the job, a fatality becomes more frequent.

        Is Being a Window Washer Dangerous?

        Yes.  Being a window washer is probably one of the most dangerous professions around.  Being a window washer is like rock climbing, and entails a special skill set and abilities.

        How Often Do Window Cleaners Service Windows?

        For windows that look great all year round, two to four professional washings a year are optimal.

        How Long Does It Take To Clean Windows?

        A long time.  “One days’ work on an average drop for a Manhattan skyscraper takes around four hours, and that’s with good weather.  In fact, it takes a month to clean the whole Hearst tower from top to bottom.

        How Are Windows Cleaned on Skyscrapers?

        Leather safety belts attached to anchor bolts and scaffolds are commonly used.

        Contacting an Window Washer Accident Lawyer

        Window washing accidents can result in a very serious injury when they do occur.  With objects falling hundreds of feet from the air and landing on pedestrians, to window washer themselves facing fatality should they fall themselves, it is no wonder why window washers are considered one of the most dangerous jobs on this planet.  Even with safety equipment and machines, window washing accidents are bound to occur, not just for the window washer themselves, but for the pedestrians below.

        This is why when an accident does occur, it is always best to get legal advice with not just an experienced attorney, but with a window washer accident lawyer who has experience in not only in litigation, but with window washer accidents themselves and who are familiar with the statute of limitations.  You need an accident attorney who can analyze the facts, determine who the different liable parties are, and how best to pursue damages and liability against those parties.  Furthermore, there may be different coverage issues that are best left to an accident attorney. 

        moshes law

        Please contact the Law Office of Yuriy Moshes for a free consultation about your rights and what remedies are available for you. They represent window washer accident victims for both workers compensation claims as well as liability claims in the greater New York City area including all its boroughs, including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island) as well as Northern New Jersey, Long Island, and Upstate New York.

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