How Worried Should New Yorkers Be About Falling Window a/C Units?
New York City is full of peculiar phenomena-rickety propped perilously into window frames-that can strike fear into the heart of even the toughest city denizen. But should they? Every month, writer Ashley Fetters will be exploring-and debunking-these New York-specific fears, letting you know what you should actually worry about, and what anxieties you can simply let slip away. Eleven years ago, University of Virginia physics professor Louis Bloomfield debunked a popular New York City urban myth in his book How Everything Works: that if a penny were dropped from the top of the Empire State Building, the momentum it would gather on its long journey down meant that should it hit a pedestrian at the ground level in the head, the sheer force of it could kill them. In reality, "falling pennies flutter and experience so much air resistance that they max out at about 25 miles per hour," Bloomfield explains. "A 25-mph penny does not have enough momentum to hurt you." So when I asked Bloomfield about the other popular New York death-by-falling-object nightmare-the nagging fear or being killed or injured by an air conditioning unit falling from an apartment window, which, like clockwork, awakens in city dwellers every summer-I half expected him to laugh that one off as a physics myth, too. But at approximately 41 pounds, the average window AC unit commonly found in New York's older apartment buildings does not need to fall very far or move very fast to achieve a potentially lethal amount of momentum were it to hit a human, Bloomfield told me: "At 25 mph it is seriously dangerous, and even a fall from the second or third floor will give it that speed." Oh, good. As far as New York anxieties go, the fear of the falling air conditioner is both irrational and kind of not; it's not at all uncommon to look up from a sidewalk and spot an air-conditioning unit balanced precariously on a windowsill, held there in space seemingly by little more than optimism. But as Aleksander Chan specified in a 2014 Gawker story titled "You Will Not Be Killed By Falling Air Conditioners," in the decade prior, only a handful of New Yorkers (approximately four) had been injured or killed by falling air conditioning units. For your sake I hope that headline holds true, and statistically speaking, it probably will. But it's nonetheless a common enough occurrence-or at least a feasible enough one-that some law firms specializing in personal injury and premises liability have published blog posts advising potential clients as to what their rights are if they have been injured by an air conditioner or another object falling from a building window two or more stories up. Who is at fault, legally speaking, when an air conditioner falls and injures someone? It's a surprisingly complicated question, says Michael J. Pospis, an attorney at one of those law firms-and it depends on the specifics of the case. "There's no way to really say in all situations, this party always has the obligation," Pospis says. If a pedestrian gets injured on the sidewalk by an air conditioner falling out of a window and takes the case to court, he explains, there are a number of potential defendants, including the building owner, the landlord, the tenant, and even in some cases the independent contractor (like a handyman or TaskRabbit serviceperson) who installed the window unit. On the website, Pospis references two New York City cases in which building owners were accused of negligence in falling A/C cases. In 2007, a court granted summary judgment in favor of the building owners after declaring that the person struck by the falling air conditioner "did not provide a shred of evidence on the issue of constructive notice," or did not prove the building owners knew the air conditioner was installed improperly. In 2009, however, a court denied a motion for summary judgment partly on grounds that the owner failed to provide evidence that they had turned over control over the apartment. Pospis also points to a recent New York Supreme Court decision that stated that in general, it's the landowner's responsibility to keep their property in reasonably safe condition, unless they've signed over "possession and control" to someone else. When assessing a landlord's liability for an air-conditioner accident, a court might look at the landlord's general policy (if there is one) on inspecting and maintaining air conditioners; whether they were negligent in that inspection or maintenance; and whether or not they relinquished control of the apartment and the window in question-which, Pospis points out, "typically depends on the terms of the agreement and/or the landowner's ability to access the premises." And indeed, the New York landlords' resource LandlordsNY advises landlords to ensure, through inspection or by requiring professional A/C installation, that window units are installed in accordance with the city's guidelines, which emphasize that air conditioning units should be supported from underneath with metal brackets or mounting rails, and those should in turn be structurally fastened to the building; they should also be affixed so that opening the window will not disturb their placement, or should be affixed to the window so that the window cannot be opened; they should not block fire escapes or other exits. The guidelines also specify to tenants that AC units should not be supported by or used as shelves for loose objects; they also (surprisingly, perhaps, to some) advise tenants to get permission from building management before installing an AC unit. So while there's no perfect way to prevent being hit by a falling air conditioner, you might consider these guidelines just a few small ways to be karmically proactive. Got a weird New York anxiety that you want explored? E-mail , and we may include it in a future column.1. Have to give up on a dream.... how do I get new ones?Can you go sideways? My husband wanted to study computers several years ago, but was not accepted into the school of his choice and gave up. A few years later a wise high school counselor he happened to meet at the supermarket steered him into automotive technician training, which is more than just fixing cars but now includes fixing onboard computers and using computers for automotive repair diagnostics. If he had studied computer programming 20 years ago he would have never caught up to the technology - now he knows so much more than computers but about brakes, automatic transmissions, air conditioning units, overhead cams, and replaces the motors that make seats go backwards and forwards. He still plays with computers as a hobby and fixes them, but he does so much more with computers as well as the workings of an automobile because a wise counselor sent him through a better, though sideways, career door. Go sideways. I wanted to be a forest ranger but could not go to school for it 20 years ago, but I went to Yosemite National Park and worked for the concession company and worked in all of the hotels and as a ski lift operator, too. I just graduated with a landscape horticulture degree, something I wanted to do 20 years ago but could not , but I did a lot of fun things in between. I went to the University of Southern California 10 years after graduating from high school and did well, and even though the English degree was not as fun as my Landscape Hort degree, it was still a goal I kept my eye on. When I had the chance, I took it. Keep your eye on your goals, and look for back doors. There are front doors, and there are back doors. I got into USC as a transfer student when I could not get in as a freshman. I got to work at Yosemite even though I was not a Park Ranger. I could still become a park Ranger if I take 2 more years of classes in Forestry Management, but now I am taking business classes to open up my own greenhouses and herb gardens, and really just want to visit the forest during fun camping trips. I may never get to go to South America or Japan, but I do not mind anymore. I was able to take sailing classes at USC and sail a sailboat and I was able to take quilting classes at Merced College and finish several handmade quilts for my bed (both on my list of things to do at age 17 but could not do then!) Look for other ways to achieve your big dreams. Ca not get that dream job? Can you volunteer instead? Ca not pay to go to Europe today? Can you start saving your money and go with your son or daughter as a chaperone with their marching band a few years from now? Ca not get in to your dream school? Can you go to a community college and get all your general ed requirements finished and then transfer in like I did? There are ways to get around your obstacles. Sometimes you have to make left, right, or go sideways and find a different door. Look for different doors or ask around for different opportunities. I could never in a million years afford to pay for a ticket to go to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and yet I have been going to the Rose Bowl Game every January 1 since 1992 working as an usher - meaning I get PAID to go to that game. I could not pay for tickets to plenty of concerts but they pay me to work as an usher for those same concerts. Give a back door a try! Sometimes the back door is much more fun, anyways. Trust me - you need not give up, you need to be open to different routes to the end result.2. If you had to, would you rather live without air conditioning or heating?By contrast with Al Evans, I live with heating and without air conditioning. It obviously depends where in the world you live. In Britain air conditioning is rarely necessary in a private home, though often good for comfort in some buildings where many people come together. A slight problem is that shops are often over heated in Winter (staff in short sleeves, customers in winter coats) and over cooled in Summer, which is good when you first come in, but gets chilly quickly.I lived the first half of my life without central heating, only a fire in the living room.A problem for the planet is that large collections of people generate their own heat. However many big cities are located in hot areas, so a great deal of energy is wasted on air conditioning units spewing out heat (which then makes the neighbour's unit work harder, using more energy and contributing to global warming.)As people in poor but hot areas get richer, they naturally want air conditioning, thus economic growth exacerbates the problem. As global warming increases the temperature in temperate zones like Britain, then air conditioning will increasingly be a must-have, though our heating might be less. If you had to, would you rather live without air conditioning or heating?3. how can i recharge my window air-conditioning units ? W/ that ... where can i aquire freon for the job?ON the inside of your unit on a black cylinder it will say what freon goes with your unit. If it R-34 (its been awhile,so I think this is right) it has been banned and will require conversion to R-134.If this is what is you need ,you would save money to just buy new ones. BUT to answer your question you MUST be E.P.A. certified to buy ANY freon any more. You need a contractor. Good Luck