A texting woman fell 6 feet down an open sidewalk cellar door on June 8 (video below).
Sidewalk cellar doors typically cover a stairway which leads into the basement of a ground-floor business, and serves as a substitute loading dock in many downtown areas.
The 67-year-old woman in the video, whose name has not been released, was walking down a street in Plainfield, New Jersey, when she plummeted into the hole created by the open cellar door, reports the Daily Mail.
Surveillance footage also shows the Plainfield Fire Division removing her from the basement floor. She was then rushed to the hospital, where she is reportedly listed in serious condition.
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Katter Law Firm of New York City published a blog post in June 2016 which warned against just such an accident. "You probably have seen lots of these on New York City sidewalks and may have even worried that they could collapse, if you stepped on them," the post begins, referring to sidewalk cellar doors. "A more realistic risk is that you could trip over an open cellar door and fall. ... If the sidewalk is crowded or if it is dark outside, pedestrians may not see the open cellar door. They could trip and fall, or worse -- they might even fall down the basement stairs."
The blog sites two such cases:
- A woman was reading a menu posted in a restaurant’s window, which was directly over an open cellar door. She did not see the opening in the sidewalk and fell into it. She suffered severe leg injuries.
- A visually impaired man intended to enter a restaurant. A restaurant employee mistakenly directed him toward the open cellar doors, and he fell. His leg was injured and later required surgery.
As for the legal implications in New York City, "property owners are obligated to keep the sidewalk in front of their property safe," the blog post continues. "If the property owner creates a sidewalk hazard, such as an open cellar door, and someone is injured as a result, the owner is legally responsible to pay the injured person compensation."
In the 1920s, a scam artist named Irving Fuhr specialized in falling into open cellar doors for the purpose of collecting personal injury payouts from businesses, according to the book, "Accidentally, on Purpose: The Making of a Personal Injury Underworld in America," as cited on the website Quora. He reportedly committed 75 so-called "flops" in one month alone, splitting the payout with his attorney, who was in the know.