Anderson Cooper Sued Over Fall At NYC Home

If falling ratings were not enough, CNN’s Anderson Cooper now has to deal with falling interior designers. He is being sued by an interior designer, Killian O’Brien, who fell at the site of his new home — an old Manhattan firehouse that is being converted. She fell 17 feet through the hole that once held the station’s fire pole.

Obviously, Anderson does not appear to have a direct role in the accident since he left the matter to construction people. He was probably a bit surprised to be sued by an interior designer who was visiting a construction site of a firehouse and fell through the prominent ladder hole.

The pole had been removed from the 1906 firehouse. O’Brien is also suing the developer for leaving the open hole.

The fact is that the hole — even on a construction site — should have been covered and this may be a case of negligence per se if the construction regs require such covers (as they probably do). That would allow O’Brien to go directly to causation — both factual (no problem there) and legal causation.

The danger here was open and obvious. However, the “open and obvious” defense is no longer a complete defense in tort. Moreover, if such covers are required, O’Brien did not assume the risk by going to the site as part of a plaintiff’s conduct defense. Anderson cannot argue that everyone is expected to have a “360” view when visiting his home.

If she saw the hole, it could present a novel question. She is a business invitee on the site and entitled to both a warning and reasonable efforts to make hidden or latent defects safe. However, there remains the construction code and the possible per se negligence problem of Anderson.

One defense is that the ladder hole does not have to be covered if it was being actively worked on or if it was uncovered to show people like a visiting interior designer. Yet, industry custom defenses have long been rejected in such cases. In Mayhew v. Sullivan Mining Co., the plaintiff fell through a hole cut in the platform for ladders and buckets. It was not covered and the worker was given no warning, but the company argued that such holes are customary in mines. The court rejected the defense.

For the story, click here.

8 thoughts on “Anderson Cooper Sued Over Fall At NYC Home”

  1. Bull$%* – construction sites are inherently dangerous. In order to build/remodel buildings, there will always be times when “dangerous” conditions are created, like unprotected dropoffs or holes. Examples of this are the installation of stairs and/or handrails – you can’t install a handrail on a balcony with a temporary barricade in place. Even when these conditions are not being actively worked on, you can not have the expectation that they will be blocked/covered/etc.

    Going on to a construction site means that you are taking responsibility for looking for those dangerous conditions and you understand that you are exposing yourself to risk.

    As a snarky architect, this story leads me to ask myself, “Should interior decorators ever be allowed onto jobsites?” Of course, I know perfectly well that most contractors and construction workers ask, “Should architects ever be allowed on jobsites?” Oh well.

    A few years out of school I got to work with a really great Contractor’s superintendent – he had a thick Danish accent and literally 30% of the words out of his mouth couldn’t be aired on TV or radio. On piece of advice I chant to myself as a mantra is, “Tommy – never f*@%ing back up (walk backwards) on a f%$*ing construction site!” How much would one be willing to bet that this person fell into the pole hole (!?!?!) because she was looking at something else and backed into the opening?

  2. It must be fun to be sued for something you didn’t even know existed… I’m surprised that people supposed to fix the house could complain that the house needed to be fixed.

  3. Why didn’t he just leave the damn pole and its hole alone?

    – It offers a convenient way of sliding downstairs to the kitchen or even down to the garage in the morning. If the house catches fire upstairs and Anderson Cooper burns to death because he can’t slide down the hole to escape, we’ll be forced to bring this topic up again.
    – A pole would be fun for showing people at parties (after putting a tasteful little gate around its hole) and getting into pretentious conversations about firemen of yore.
    – People who fall through the hole can at least cling to it.
    – Removing the pole would be really stupid if it were load bearing, and who knows in buildings over one hundred years old.
    – Leaving the pole there, and securely corking the hole shut with something that can hold a tablecloth and flowers, would present an opportunity for visiting bitches who can lube up the pole like it’s an ordinary stripper pole and mount it for you- maybe at the parties Anderson Cooper throws. Bonus points if the bitch happens to be a female firefighter.

    Who the hell would convert an old firehouse and ahistorically rip out the damn pole, a symbol of the house’s origin? It almost makes you wonder about Anderson’s intellect.

  4. While not a complete defense in tort law, I find the open and obvious defense a pretty complete defense with juries. It is hard to ask a panel to excuse the fact that a plaintiff inadvertently fell through a hole large enough to fit a body through, especially given that it was an old fire station where one might expect such a feature. As you know, New York state dispenses with the traditional categorization of land owner/possessor liability categories eschewing the invitee/licensee/trespasser distinctions in favor of the “reasonable care under the circumstances” standard with foreseeability being the determinative factor.(Basso v. Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 386 N.Y.S.2d 564 (1976)). While Basso emphasizes an analysis of the “circumstances” surrounding the fall, most judges revert to the old rule where the presence of an open and obvious condition operates as a bar to recovery. Thus summary judgment is a real adventure. The bigger problem for plaintiff, however, is her degree of culpability in this pure comparative negligence state. Even assuming a favorable award it might be so severely compromised by her own negligence as to not be worth the effort.

  5. Lets see Fire House, Hole for the Pole. Somebody fall, somebody that was presumably a business invitee. Can Assumption of Risk be a defense, rather than negligence be a defense?

    If she were a trespasser and the General has a timeline to comply with, would the contractor have a claim against them for delay in construction?

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