A troubled Staten Island woman recently lost her life after a freak accident at a garment drop box.
Melissa Mazzeo, 51, of Sunnyside Terrace, was trying to access clothing and shoes inside the drop box (located on Victory Boulevard near Clove Road), around noon. She is known in the neighborhood as an eccentric scavenger and has been seen climbing into the drop box in the past.
The size of a small shack, this drop box has a padlocked door and small slot for drop offs. Mazzeo climbed through the slot apparently to scavenge clothes, but found herself stuck.
A customer found her screaming and notified Peter Schenck, a local maintenance worker doing work at the next-door bagel store. When he looked to investigate, he found Mazzeo's head and hands protruding from the slot. She had attempted an escape, but the slot door slammed on her neck and suffocated her.
It took several hours for emergency crews to take her out because the door's lock had to be broken.
Neighbors said Mazzeo was a common sight in the neighborhood. She was always walking around and liked to jog. She would often bring a shopping cart with a hook to access clothing boxes. She was also known for scavenging trash and leaving items strewn on her lawn and hanging from her home.
She was arrested in November for attempted petit larceny and criminal possession of stolen property. She was even banned from the bagel shop because she would steal things. She was known also for engaging in "quarrels" with neighbors.
Let's say someone on her behalf decided to bring a lawsuit claiming that the drop box was improperly constructed and was hazardous. Do you think it would be a good argument? What arguments do you think the defense could raise to derail her case?
Aside from the common sense argument that you shouldn't play in drop boxes, one question is whether this was an attractive nuisance. Why is that important? In cases involving children who are attracted to hazards we will often claim that the hazard was an attractive nuisance and was dangerous for children and their natural curiosity.
However, here we have an adult with known eccentric problems. Is it reasonable to assume that people who scavenge the neighborhood will climb into a box designed to hold clothing? If she had a history of doing this and the owner of the drop box knew, or should have known this was occurring, did he have an obligation to do something to prevent this type of tragedy?
This scenario raises many more questions than answers.
If you would like more information about how negligence and accident cases work in the state of New York, I encourage you to explore my educational website. If you have legal questions, I invite you to pick up the phone and call me at 516-487-8207 or by e-mail at email@example.com to answer your questions. That's what I do every day. I welcome your call.