Court Rules Owner Has Duty to Regulate Hot Water Temperature
A Second Department Supreme Court judge recently declined to dismiss a case brought by the family of a toddler who was scalded during a kitchen sink bath. The toddler received first- and second-degree burns after he turned on a lever controlling the kitchen sink water while his mother was busy mopping the floor of water from the bath. In declining to dismiss the case, the judge effectively ruled that a building owner cannot disclaim any duty to regulate hot water to tenants [Velez v. Geomar Realty, July 2009].
The owner and management company had argued that there was no evidence of how hot the water really was, and they pointed out that the parents admitted the water temperature could be regulated through the use of the lever to the proper temperature. They also relied on a First Department appeals court case that dealt with a 2-year-old child who was severely burned by bath water. In this case, the court ruled that a hot water setting of 140 degrees did not violate the owner's duty to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition. This was because, according to an expert's opinion, keeping the water at high temperatures helps in eliminating certain microorganisms when washing dishes or clothing. The appeals panel also stated that an owner “cannot be required to adjust the hot water temperature in order to protect children from adults who fail to do so” [Williams v. Jefferson Management, November 2005].
Even though the First Department appeals ruled for the owner in the case above, the Second Department judge in the case at hand stated that “this Court sits in the Second Department and must follow Second Department authority.” The judge then noted an Appellate Division, Second Department case that held that a parent who alleged that his infant child's third-degree burns came from water with a temperature of more than 140 degrees had raised a triable issue as to whether the owner failed to maintain his premises in a reasonably safe condition [Rosencranz v. Kiselak, April 2008].
Comply with Code, Protect Tenants
By law, you must provide your tenants with water of at least 120 degrees between the hours of 6 a.m. and midnight.
If you are worried about the possibility of children and elderly tenants being scalded in your building, you may want to consider installing anti-scald safety devices that limit the water flow to a trickle if it exceeds 120 degrees on showerheads and faucets. It takes up to five minutes for a severe burn injury to occur if the hot water heating system is maintained and distributed at the recommended 120 degrees, allowing tenants time to react and remove themselves from the hot water.
In New York City, there is no requirement for buildings constructed before 1997 to install temperature control valves on hot water valves in showers. However, the New York City administrative code now imposes an obligation on owners to install shower temperature control valves with a maximum setting of 120 degrees on buildings built after 1997.