CHELSEA — A visually impaired man who was leading a blind friend down the street when he fell into a sidewalk elevator is suing the Doughnut Plant and Hotel Chelsea owners, claiming he lost the pinky finger he needs to read braille.
Brian Hurley was visiting from Washington, D.C., and hoped to take a blind friend out for donuts at the bakery's Hotel Chelsea location on May 13, 2012, according to court documents. The shop at 220 W. 23rd St. is famous for its top-notch treats, like Valrhona chocolate and donuts filled with peanut butter and banana cream.
Hurley's suit alleges that the sidewalk elevator shaft outside the Doughnut Plant was open, unmarked and unprotected, with the elevator lowered all the way to the basement. According to documents, Hurley fell into the shaft, plummeting between 8 and 10 feet.
Hurley was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, where he was treated for serious injuries. Doctors amputated a mangled right pinky finger, and his injury kept him out of work for nearly a month, according to the lawsuit.
Hurley, who works to raise awareness about the blind community for National Industries for the Blind, walks with a cane and suffers from Retinitis pigmentosa, which severely limits vision. The friend he was with had no vision whatsoever, according to Hurley's attorney, Jay Dankner.
"A pinky, to a non-sighted person, is much more significant than to a sighted person," Dankner said.
"He uses it to hold his walking stick. He uses it to read braille. He uses it more than you or I would."
The suit alleges that the Doughnut Plant and its landlord, Hotel Chelsea owner The Chetrit Group, were negligent in leaving the elevator shaft open, creating "a dangerous, defective, open and traplike condition."
On Monday, the elevator was closed and surrounded by bright traffic cones.
Doughnut Plant representatives did not respond to requests for comment, but in court documents, both defendants claim the other held responsibility for the accident.
"They're pointing the proverbial legal finger at each other," Dankner said.
Stephen Donahue, a lawyer for the Chetrits, could not comment on whether the Doughnut Shop was liable for Hurley's injury, but said the shop was allowed to use the lift as part of its lease.
"From our point of view, there was no negligence on the part of the hotel," he said.
Still, Dankner said that one — or both — of them is responsible for Hurley's injuries.
"They could have marked it or even had someone standing there, making sure people don't fall in," he said. "You don't just keep it open and leave it like that."