How Often Do Air Conditioners Fall Out of NYC Windows and Kill People?

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RAND Engineering & Architecture, PC
Ah, New York City in the summer! Generally, we really do love it, despite the on-the-way-to-work sweatiness and fish-in-an-old-sweat-sock smells. But with summer comes air conditioners, and with air conditioners come inept installations into apartment windows, and with inept installations come the occasional, every so often, reports that an air conditioner has fallen from the sky and bashed someone in the head. Which would be awful. Truly, truly awful. So, how much should we worry about this, really? We took to the Internet, place of great knowledge, to find out.

A woman on Quora, where this question was asked in July of 2010, supplies us with this answer:

I did a quick Google/newspaper archive search and only found this: http://gothamist.com/2006/06/14/... , which happened back in 2006. Given that I only had one hit, and that that was only for someone injured by a falling air conditioner, I'm going to say that the number of people killed by a falling air conditioner is statistically insignificant, and most likely does not occur on a yearly basis.

But should we be so easily placated? After all, it's only THE INTERNET. So, we carried on with our research. The 2006 post on Gothamist reveals that a woman was indeed hit by an air conditioner unit falling out of a window on East 104th Street, as reported by the Post. Her "right leg was crushed, the bone shattered. She also suffered broken ribs, a broken pelvis, fractured vertebrae, and internal bleeding." She was, fortunately, expected to recover.

Another person, on the mixed martial arts forum of Sherdog, suggests that there might be a greater conspiracy at work with regard to plummeting air conditioners.

There has got to be some NYC government cover up on this....

And lo, we recall that in September of last year there was another air-conditioning incident, near Village Voice HQ, in fact. We even wrote about it.

67-year-old Tony Franzese was just walking his Shih Tzu down 2nd Avenue at 3rd Street when he got bonked on the head with the errant A.C. He reportedly suffered a head wound and was taken to Bellevue, where we're told he's in stable condition.

The NYPD also told us that the A.C.'s fall had been determined an accident, with no charges against the tenant -- a/k/a, "It was not pushed." According to the New York Post, building inspectors have already ordered air conditioner brackets be installed immediately and given citations to the building's owner

But! The awning of the Wine Bar, which generously took the brunt of the initial impact, may have saved his life, says the Wine Bar's owner, Raymond Azzi. So there's that.

(Franzese later sued for $21 million.)

Just a couple of months later there was another A.C. plummet, this one in West New York. As reported by the Jersey Journal, 24-year-old New Jersey man Esidra Valles was hit by an air conditioner that fell 15 stories and struck him in the head. "His injuries required a one-hour surgery and about 50 staples and stitches across his head and face." He had this to say:

"I feel like, if your air conditioner is falling, yell something," Valles said, "I heard nothing."

The New York Times was worried about air conditioners falling out of windows and hitting people back in 2004, as related to co-op liability. Earlier this year, EV Grieve reported on a piece of an air conditioner that had fallen on East 10th Street, prompting a response from the FDNY. Air conditioners have also struck people in London and Chicago (they -- the people, that is -- survived).

In fact, in our admittedly unscientific search, we found zero confirmed cases of death by air conditioner, and only a few mentions. A child was critically injured when he fell from a window (that lacked bars, which had been removed to put in an air conditioner) and landed on another air conditioner unit. But, air conditioners can save lives, too. So what's the deal? Has anyone in New York City ever been killed by a falling air conditioner?

According to Jennifer Gilbert, press secretary for the NYC Department of Buildings,

Accidents involving air conditioners are rare in New York City, but property owners of buildings seven stories and higher must submit façade reports to the Department every five years to ensure that the buildings' exteriors are properly maintained. All property owners are responsible for the maintenance of their buildings and are encouraged to follow the Department's installation tips.

OK. But what is RARE?

We checked with the NYPD. Detective Cheryl Crispin of the Office of the Deputy Commissioner said, succinctly, "We do not compile data on those accidents."

Yahoo Answers, meanwhile, has its own questions to ask about air-conditioner-icide.

If a portable air conditioner falls from window (killing someone, is that manslaughter?

2 Scenarios:

Scenario 1: The owner of the apartment unit was too lazy to secure the air conditioner in the unit and was just desperate for cool air and did an inferior job putting it in the upstairs window.

Sadly, the air conditioner was slowly and steadily rolling more and more outside, and eventually it fell out the window, hitting a street pedestrian and killing the person.

(Is the owner liable? Is the owner guilty? if Guilty, of what crime?)

Scenario 2: The owner installs the portable air conditioner and does an inferior job. Then the owner paints the outside of the window with the message "I am PURPOSELY making sure the air conditioner falls out the window." And it kills someone.

What would the charge be in scenario 2?

The more we know, the more we want to know. But, going back to our original question: How worried should we be about Death by Air Conditioner? Since there seem to be few of these incidents, and fewer still reported by the cops or Department of Buildings, and zero on historical record that have actually killed anyone, we say...Worry away! This is exactly the sort of thing that takes our mind off being struck by lightning as we pass by a light post in a sudden thunderstorm while barefoot and on our cell phones.

[JDoll / @thisisjendoll]

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25 comments
newyorker
newyorker

I live in Knickerbocker and an  AC dropped from a window in today.   I heard that it split open a pedestrian's head.  And we had mandatory inspection of all AC installation few months ago.  Maybe this tenant installed it after the inspection.

Monish Bhatia
Monish Bhatia

 What are mini split air conditioners Like the central air conditioner units, ductless mini split air conditioners have two main components: an outdoor compressor/condenser, and an indoor air-handling unit. A conduit, which houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, suction tubing, and a condensate drain,links the outdoor and indoor units through a small hole (3 inches usually) that is drilled in the wall of the building. The main advantages of mini split air conditioners are their small size and flexibility for zoning or heating and cooling individual rooms. The number depends on how much heating or cooling is required for the building or each zone (which is also affected by how well the building is insulated). Since each of the split air conditioner zones/rooms will have it's own therm

thermostat, you only need to condition that area when someone is present, which saves energy and money. If you are in a office building at a higher floor, you can also install Outside Compressor using our Wall Bracket.

Raw-B
Raw-B

My friend Jameson almost killed a person when he let my AC fall out of my 5th floor window on Bergen and 5th in BKY...

Dell Ledermann
Dell Ledermann

When I first heard this, I was like "No way!" But when I researching about it, there are indeed documented cases of people killed when A/C units fell on their heads.. I think the government has to do safety inspections and revise the law about structural safety. A/C units should be secured in steel bars which are bolted on the wall itself, not on the flimsy window frame. 

Royleeshouse
Royleeshouse

i was walking down 6th st and a box fan fell right next to me so close i felt a breeze. i'm talkin' 3 inches from my head. i looked up and yelled at the little kid who quickly put his head back in the window.

Appledude
Appledude

This is why on condo's you should have board approval before a/c's are installed - I have fought to allow window a/c's in all condo's at our complex, but the board needs to look at how these units are installed - there is no excuse for shoddy installation, and earthquakes and other situations should be considered, and these units over-installed a bit.  My a/c unit is supported by a rod going against the condo wall, and on the inside by the window, which has sliding window locks holding it secure on the top and bottom - then it has a shelf-type board that goes across the window sill preventing the unit from "backing out" of the window - this shelf-board is held by a bracket.  This unit is sturdy enough that if you need to remove the sliding locks and open the window, it will stay on its own without the support of the window.

J. Loslo
J. Loslo

Back in 1979, I was working for a NYC moving company when I nearly dropped an air conditioner out of a 14th floor window of the Flatiron Building.  We were, um, de-installing it at the time.  My partner and I caught it, and set it down on the floor, and then my heart started beating again.

handwriting analysis
handwriting analysis

Great, another thing I have to fear, along with elevators, falling coconuts and sharksy.thanks

martron3000
martron3000

Place mirrors on your shoes so you can see if an air conditioner (or a grand piano) is plummeting downwards towards you.  Problem solved.

Tom
Tom

We have laws regulating rigging and licensing riggers to cover the hoisting of heavy objects (to minimize the risk of, e.g., the falling piano).  We really should have similar laws for the installing of window air conditioners.  To me, it's just as dangerous.

John
John

i saw one fall out of a window about 20 feet in front of me while walking my dog years ago on 16th street. Still freaks me out thinking about it.

Air Conditioner NYC
Air Conditioner NYC

We'd advise you to call qualified installers. We're professional installers in New York City.

Tom
Tom

Good post Jen.  I've had the same concerns ever since I threw out my back installing my first air conditioner.  I was thinking, this is really dangerous. There ought to be a law.

-- Tom

Billy
Billy

It only happens on Seinfield

Air Conditioner NYC
Air Conditioner NYC

We (Air Conditioner New York) suggest that all of you hire a professional installer. If you are concerned with installing your air conditioner, especially if the unit is larger than 10,000 BTUs, you should not install the unit on your own.

Feel free to give AIR CONDITIONER NEW YORK a call. Visit our site, we service Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens.

http://airconditionernewyork.b...

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

Great, another thing I have to fear, along with elevators, falling coconuts and sharks.

Rev Bob
Rev Bob

Are you people insane? The reason I walk down the middle of the street is to avoid plummeting pianos!

Brian of London
Brian of London

In the 2008 movie Ghost Town staring Ricky Gervais, one of the films main characters (I'm not giving much away here.... it's a ghost story) is (almost) killed this way at the opening of the film.

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