Manholes are abundant throughout New York, especially the Bronx. Manholes provide access to the cables and wires that run our city, state and grid.
According to Metro US, New York City has nearly 100,000 miles of underground cable and 264,000 manholes and service boxes that help control that system, leading to thousands of manhole cover issues every year. NBC News also reported on a series of manhole explosions in April 2019 that hurt four people.
Manhole covers are the cause of more injuries than should happen, some of them quite serious.
Among the most common manhole injuries are:
- Steam burn injuries
- Slip, trip and fall
- Occupational injuries
Steam and burn injuries
The surface of manhole covers can get hot enough to scald pedestrians and pets, causing first and second degree burns and on rare and tragic occasions, third degree burns on legs and feet—simply by walking over them. Even if the surface is not that searing hot, the steam pouring out of the holes in the cover can also cause injuries. Burn injury victims may suffer nerve damage, infection, skin damage, scars, disfigurement, and other serious lasting medical issues.
Slip, trip and fall
Missing or misplaced manhole covers can cause pedestrians to slip, trip and fall, and sometimes fall farther than they expect. Snow-covered ground in winter conceals manholes and missing manhole covers and is a major hazard. Furthermore, driving over a poorly covered manhole can trap a car or bicycle tire and cause serious injury as well as damage to your vehicle.
Parts of the NYC electrical grid are very, very old and in serious need of replacement or maintenance. When the wires and cords protected by manholes become damaged and an electrical short occurs, the manhole may get blasted from its placement with flames and smoke to follow. Anyone standing or driving near the manhole is in danger, and the resulting smoke and fire becomes a major road hazard.
Construction crews are at the highest risk of occupational injury by manhole cover, simply because they are most often working near manholes for long hours of the day. Covers that are unsecured can easily shift and throw workers onto unequal footing, resulting in injuries.
Although workers compensation may be issued, the utility authority or transit company liable for the maintenance and safety of the manhole may also be held responsible for compensating a victim for unsafe premises.
When to look out
Although manhole explosions can happen any time, be mindful during colder months. Wintertime is especially linked to fires and steam bursts from manholes, as cold temperatures jeopardize the protective sheaths of cables, and melting precipitation mixes with rock salt and falls into the wiring and cables that run beneath our streets.
As temperatures warm, more debris can flow into the underground system, shorting out electricity and creating hazards throughout the city. The heat of summer can also add to the steam that pours from manhole covers, which can cause burns to the feet and legs.
Holding the liable party responsible for your manhole cover injury
No one should have to deal with the fallout of a manhole cover injury, but it may be difficult to figure out who should be held accountable. For more than 30 years, the Law Office of Evan W. Kohn has defended the rights of clients throughout the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island; Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties; and Long Island who have been wronged.