It's a perennial New York fear—ranked somewhere between a bed bug and Santacon infestation—that anyone who enjoys the comforts of window air conditioning has considered at one point or another: What happens if your A.C. installation or removal goes awry, or your unit somehow dislodges from its precarious resting place, plunging onto the city streets below. Worse, what if that 40-plus pound hunk of metal lands on an unsuspecting pedestrian? What would you do then? (The pre-A.C. version of this fear was probably knocking your alarm clock off of the fire escape where you slept on hot nights with your 18 brothers.)
Thankfully, the chances of getting killed by a falling air conditioner are exceedingly low—as far as we can tell, it's only happened in New York once before, on East 23rd Street in 1988. But people do occasionally get struck and injured by poorly secured units, sometimes badly.
That appears to have been the situation with Lorenzo Sidberry, a Bronx man who says he was the victim of a falling air conditioner near 1st Avenue and 19th Street last October. Earlier this week, Sidberry filed a lawsuit against the building's property manager, Foxwood Realty, as well as Robert Olmo, the tenant who resided in the Gramercy Park apartment building.
The complaint alleges that both Foxwood and Olmo should be responsible for the falling object, which allegedly struck Sidberry in the leg, causing "pain, shock and mental anguish." He suffered permanent injury as a result of the impact, his attorney Stephen Goldstein said, and has since required knee injections as well as back surgery.
"He was eating an ice cream cone when he looked up and saw this thing coming down," Goldstein told Gothamist.
The bulk of the responsibility for the falling object, according Goldstein, lies with the landlord, who may be at fault for either putting the unit in wrong, or not inspecting the tenant's installation. Still, the tenant "could be liable," Goldberg says.
Asked whether he was familiar with other cases in which tenants were held legally responsible for injuries caused by their A.C. units, the attorney said he didn't know any off the top of his head. A Curbed article from earlier this year notes that the issue of legal liability is "a surprisingly complicated question," with potential defendants that include building owners, landlords, tenants, and even handymen who install the units.
And at least one personal injury firm appears to specialize in cases of people getting bonked on the head, noting online that, "If you or someone you love has been injured by a falling air conditioner, you may have a case for a personal injury claim."
So, as ever, remember to install your air conditioners properly, for the safety of other New Yorkers, and potentially your own wallet. But also don't worry too much: soon enough, we'll all be living among those hideous PTAC units anyway.