EP09 S03: How You Can Investigate Building Accidents For Free Online to Win Your Case
How You Can Investigate Building Accidents For Free Online to Win Your Case
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Hello everyone and welcome to Trial Stories. I’m your host Arkady Frekhtman, a New York city personal injury trial attorney. Today, I’m going to show you how our law firm handles premises liability cases on behalf of clients that we represent. So a premises liability case could be a slip and fall on ice, a trip, and fall due to a raised sidewalk, an accident that happens in an apartment building, a ceiling collapse, or a leak from a ceiling that leads to a fall, or many other types of accidents or injuries that happen in premises or a building of any type.
So the first thing that we do when the clients hire us, is we have a video series that is on YouTube and it’s a recording, and what we do is we’re going to put it into a playlist and we provide it to our clients. It goes on a drip campaign and clients receive one video every two weeks and it’s all about premises liability cases, the type of cases that they care about because it happened to them. Does it answer FAQs like how soon should I go to a doctor? How can I get treatment? Who’s going to pay? How could we do telemedicine during COVID? Then what’s the status of my case? How the process works, how much will my case be worth? What do I need to prove in order to win my case? Can the landlord kick me out of my apartment? Things like that.
But what I wanted to focus this video on is to give you some resources, and this is for other personal injury plaintiff’s attorneys, as well as litigants who are pro se. If you want to handle a case on your own without a lawyer and go pro se to court, this is the type of information you would need. There are a lot of public resources out there on the internet that you could use as a weapon to find out information about the defendants, who in premises liability cases, the defendants are usually the landlords, the owners of the property, as well as the tenants or the… I’m sorry, not the tenants, the management companies. The management companies are also the defendants.
So that’s usually where you start. We created this onboarding for our staff, and what they do is they go in here and it basically answers the question, what investigation will my lawyer do to help my lawsuit? We have all these links, like the Department of Buildings, the New York City HPD, which is the Housing and Preservation Department. There’s a website called Who Owns What. So just to start. In the very, very beginning, what we do is we go to the scene of the accident and we look at it ourselves. We take measurements, photos. We speak to witnesses. We find out if there are any witnesses. We get detailed information from our clients, from the witnesses. If it’s a serious case, or if we feel like an expert could help, we hire an expert like an engineer or a safety expert, and they’ll go out and they’ll do their own photos, videos. Then we have an expert on board.
But the two resources that are really, really helpful are Who Owns What. You could see here if you click on Who Owns What on the link, and we’ll drop all these links in the description, but you could just type in an address. Like, for example, I think the last one I worked on was 2500 Bedford. Yeah, you just click on it and it’ll tell you who is the site manager, who’s the agent, which company owns it. Then it gives you all these cool links, like ACRIS. ACRIS will give you the deeds. Then you just click on ACRIS, takes you right there, and then boom, you see, just look at the deed. That’s the most recent deed in 2015, it tells you this LLC owns the building and it was sold for 3.5 million in 2015.
Then you can even click the button and then you see view document, boom, and you get the actual deed. Yeah, actually, you can print it, you could zoom into it and you could see exactly what’s happening. So it’s free. So it’s very helpful. Then you could also go to the HPD website and then that’ll give you complaints and violations from the Housing and Preservation Department. The way that works is people call 311. Somebody comes out, and if the complaint is confirmed, that it’s substantiated that it actually is happening, like they say, “My ceiling is leaking,” and somebody comes out and they say, “My ceiling is leaking. It is cracked. It is dangerous.” They’ll issue a violation.
Then if the landlord still doesn’t cure the violation and fix the problem properly, then we can use that in court to show this landlord is really bad, that not only is the client complaining, the tenant, the client has to complain to the New York City Housing and Preservation, they have to come out, a government agency, it takes them time to come out. They have to do their inspection. They issue a violation with a monetary penalty and a notice to the landlord. Then time goes by beyond that and the landlord still doesn’t fix it. So then the landlord looks really, really bad in court.
Then you have the Department of Buildings, complaints, and violations. You have property tax bills, which really just tell you about ownership. This one, the DAP portal is really cool because when you go into here, what it does is it gives you sales and financing. It gives you evictions if you have a landlord-tenant issue. It gives you the HPD complaints and you could actually click on 100, right? Then you see all the complaints and whatever your case is about. If your case is about something to do with, let’s say a broken window, here you have a broken window right here on 1/31/2019. Just depending on what your case is about and it actually lists all the apartments. See, like 4D, 3A, 2F. So you have to find it and then you can use that in your case.
It also has all the violations. With the violations, it gets a little bit more specific because they’re telling you actual code sections. So for example, they’re saying Section 27-2005 of the Administrative Code was violated because there’s a broken or defective plastered surface in the bathroom at apartment 3F. So if it’s like a defective ceiling, then that if it’s a ceiling collapsed, that could be your violation right there. They have the Department of Building complaints, the Department of Building violations. This one has to do with boilers. The Environmental Control Board violations, which I think this one has to do with some kind of construction issue so you might have a case about construction. The Department of Building Permit applications and litigation’s against the landlord. You have other litigations. I think these are also landlord-tenant litigation’s. So this is very helpful.
Then the other very important thing you could do is you could search if you have a case, for example, with streets where a company is doing work on a street. You could go out and you could use the New York City Streets Permit Management System, and you just plug in two streets or an intersection or wherever the work is being done. You could do by permit, by dates, by location, by the permittee if you know who’s doing the work, and then it’ll actually tell you who did the work, and then you could follow up with a Freedom of Information Law request to get more information such as the gang sheets and the actual work that was being done. So it’s pretty, pretty cool. There’s a lot of stuff.
There’s OSHA, where you could search for OSHA violations on a federal level. You could subpoena the OSHA inspections. You could search by the establishment on a state or federal level. You could then issue a subpoena as an attorney to get more information from OSHA. Or you could do a Freedom of Information Law to them as well. So there’s a lot of different resources.
The final one that I think is very important is this one about FOIL. This is the New York City FOIL. So you just click it and it takes you to different categories. But if you don’t know which category, you could leave it as all, and then you click on agencies and then you’ll see here, they have various agencies. For example, the Department of Homeless Services. So if your injury occurred in a shelter, you would want the Homeless Services FOIL, and they would give you the inspections, the complaints, whatever they have. You could do it for the Housing and Preservation. We looked at the DAP portal and that gave you violations. But that’s just telling you that the violation was issued. With this, you could probably get the exact complaint, the inspector’s notes, whatever they have, you could FOIL through the Freedom of Information Act and the Freedom of Information Law. So it’s pretty cool.
If it happened in a park, Parks and Recreation, sanitation. Whatever it’s about, transportation, Department of Transportation. Then, yeah, there’s a bunch of them. So you just look through it, whatever’s relevant, and then you could get the FOIL research. So it’s pretty, pretty cool. I mean, it also has, I think, some kind of local laws that you could search or local statutes, oh, corporations if you want to sue a corporation, you could do those searches. Local laws, corporations, and entities. You could find any kind of corporation here. So it’s pretty helpful information.
This is an example of how we used it in an actual case. We sent a settlement opportunity letter to the insurance company and we told them, “Hey, you have a 42 unit apartment building that was purchased for 6.5 million back in 2013. It had almost 200 HPD complaints and 100 violations, and 65 of those are still active, and here’s a link. We’re not making this up. Here’s a link to it.” The building has boiler violations, and it’s just scary because this owner has 22 other properties, and look at how they’re managing them. They have 1.1 open violations per residential unit and that’s much, much worse than the citywide average because the websites also tell you what’s the average. Then I think it was a total of like over 2,160 violations and a Brooklyn jury will not be sympathetic to a wealthy landlord or slumlord who’s neglecting hardworking tenants.
Then you use that, and this case actually settled for $100,000. It was a slip and fall in a lobby staircase and it settled for just under $100,000, I think, because of some of that. So one of the things you want to do as a lawyer or as a pro se litigant, is you want to show motive, you want to show why this is happening. If it’s really, really bad conduct, it could rise to exemplary damages or punitive damages, which means that it’s willful and it’s a gross violation, that they really don’t care. They’re being told that they’re violating the law, they have to fix it, and they’re just putting profits over safety and ignoring everything and doing it willfully and knowingly. Once that happens, you can get money to compensate the injured party, but you could also get money to punish the defendant so this kind of conduct doesn’t happen again in the future and that’s very, very powerful.
So all of these links are excellent sources to use. The other thing you can do is just Google the defendant, Google your own plaintiff, find out as much as you can. It’s important for an attorney to be curious, because some law firms, just get overwhelmed with the volume of work. So you don’t want to get stuck in that whirlwind where it’s always something coming at you, this case, that case, this client, that client, and you just can’t sit down and take the time to be curious and to do this kind of research because this kind of research could be very, very powerful.
I’ll give you some examples. I had a case in February of 2020 right before the pandemic where a mom was picking up her child from school and she was leaving through a side door out of the school to go to the yard to basically go home. It was 3:00 and she slipped and fell on those stairs inside the school about three, four steps leading to that side door. So the City of New York was sued and the Department of Education and said, “We’re not going to pay anything. It was raining. People are going in and out, of course, they’re going to track in the water.” But we found that this was a recurrent condition. We had witnesses to say that, that this was happening every time it rained, people would always track in water and they never put a receptacle for umbrellas. They never put on mats.
Then we found this through the Freedom of Information Law, we sent it to the Department of Education and the Department of Sanitation, and we got it from both sources, right? It was from like 1975, 42 years before the incident, they had a manual for all New York City schools and it said you must have rubber mats during inclement weather. So now we argued you didn’t follow your own rules and we knew it was powerful because during closing arguments, when we were making that argument, three or four of the six jurors were nodding their heads, of course, because if you’re the one who makes the rule, how can you not follow it?
Then we also got it from Sanitation because they had a collective bargaining agreement for all the janitors. It said the same thing, during inclement weather, you have to put mats and we had no mats in our case. So that’s just one example. There was another example in a case where we found violations to HPD for ceiling leaks, and they never fixed it despite years and years like a decade worth, and then the ceiling collapsed on our client. There was one with a nursing home, I believe, where the owner of the nursing home was sued by the Attorney General and he had to pay a $30 million penalty and admit fault for the egregious conduct that he unfortunately was involved in.
There was one with a trailer park upstate in New York where the Attorney General of the State of New York sued the owner of that trailer park for not providing water, not providing heat, and having all these safety violations. Our case was also an egregious safety violation. It was like a jagged metal that was sticking up and it cut a child. So the New York State FOIL could also be done. That’s the Freedom of Information Law for the Attorney General for the New York State. The one we looked at was the New York City one. But I hope this has been helpful.
So it just really goes to explain how a lawyer or you could do it yourself if you’re a pro se litigant, how you should start a case. You should really go to the scene, take measurements, photos, speak to witnesses, speak to your client, find out everything that happened. Find out the history. Do a Google search of your own client and of all the defendants. Use these resources, especially this DAP portal and the Who Owns What, because that gives you a lot of information and you could download it in the DAP portal. We looked at it, you could actually download it to Excel so you could keep it and you could actually put like 100, you could find 100 different violations of all of these different things, and if it’s relevant, you just download it and then you can keep it and use it. So, yeah, it’s really helpful.
With the FOIL, you just submit your information. It’s free. You put your description, you put in your name and your email and you submit it. You get an email back from them right away acknowledging your request, and then about two, three months later, they’ll usually send you a letter with some documents and then you could follow up with them. You could start emailing back and forth to follow up. But it’s a little bit delayed because of the pandemic, but it’s very helpful. Google Maps is also excellent. You could see the condition of a roadway or a sidewalk. We have a case, for example, where a manhole wasn’t flush with the roadway, and somebody tripped in the hole right near the edge of the manhole. You could just go to Google maps and you could see, like in 2013, for example, they have archived historical photos. It was perfect. It was in great condition.
You could use Google Maps or Google Earth. Then in 20, I believe, 18, you could see the cracks starting to develop. Then by 2020, when our client fell, it was even bigger. It got really bad. There’s a rule in New York City that manholes have to be flushed with the roadway and there’s a 12-inch rule, 12 inches all around the metal of the manhole, there shouldn’t be any kind of elevations or defects or holes, and here we did have that. So that could be helpful to just use a Google Map.
So I hope this has been helpful. These are just some of the ways that we investigate cases to get them started, to build that foundation, to then have the evidence that we need to file the lawsuit. Then of course, once you file the lawsuit, you can get more information in discovery, and then you’re always putting pressure on the defendants to settle, to pay you a fair monetary value for what your injury is worth. If they don’t pay, then you have all this ammunition that you could use at trial. So I hope this has been helpful. Drop us a comment, ask us a question. We’d be happy to help. Tell us about your case or how you want to use these tools. Okay. Have a great night, everybody, and bye-bye.
*NYC FOIL *
** DAP PORTAL **
Search local laws for towns and cities
https://nycstreets.net/public/permit/search this allows u to search all street permits Department of Transportation (DOT) city wide
OSHA violations & data searches