We all remember the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit — probably the most famously frivolous suit in American history — when a jury in Albuquerque awarded $2.7 million dollars to a woman who spilled burning hot coffee on her lap. (Civil penalties were ultimately reduced to $480,000.) Apparently, New York City landlords are now also — excuse the pun — in hot water of their own. Last week, a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge ruled that landlords are responsible for regulating the temperature of hot water in their buildings.
This may seem obvious, but things aren’t as simple as they seem and the results of the case have implications for tenants.
In 2006, a fifteen month-old baby suffered first and second degree burns when he turned on the water in the kitchen sink — which was set to a maximum of 140 degrees — while his mother was mopping the floor. The landlords, Geomar Realty, LLC argued that landlords aren’t responsible for tenants who burn themselves with hot water, as long as they maintain a safe maximum temperature in the building.
Geomar Realty also said there was no evidence of how hot the water really was anyway, and that the little boy’s parents had the ability to adjust the level to make sure it never got to the maximum heat – which they claimed wasn’t “unreasonably dangerous.” But because the boy got burned anyway, Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Jack Battaglia ruled that it was indeed, unreasonably dangerous.
The law says a landowner owes a “nondelegable” duty to maintain its premises “in a reasonably safe condition.” And so, we expect, the hot water lawsuits will go on. Photo (cc) Joe Schlabotnik.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 7, 2009