New York Man Files Lawsuit After Falling Through Sinkhole Into Nest of Rats 'the Size of Puppies'

A man who fell into a rat-infested nest when a sinkhole collapsed on a New York sidewalk is suing the city and a building landlord over the horror fall.

Leonard Shoulders, 33, was waiting for a bus at East 183rd Street and Third Avenue in the Bronx when the sidewalk collapsed beneath his feet in late October.

Surveillance video shows the moment shoulders fell more than a dozen feet into the hole as he tries desperately to hold on to the concrete but continues to slip further underground.

Passerby rush to Shoulders' aid, only to find the man has been swallowed entirely by the sidewalk. Some call out, asking him to wave his hands or yell to signal he's OK.

However, Shoulders' mother Cindy White, said the pit was so full of rats that her son was unable to even scream for help—too terrified that the rodents would crawl into his mouth.

"He was like, 'Ma, the rats down there were ridiculous.' He was like, 'they were like so big.' He was scared to yell out because he thought they were gonna go in his mouth," White told NBC4 New York.

Describing the fall, White said he "went down feet first." "He was just standing and the sidewalk just—it was like a suction. Like a sinkhole. He just went down," she added.

"He's traumatized. He said he went straight down and he was just falling falling but the debris was falling and hitting him in the head."

It took police and firefighters half an hour to carefully pull Shoulders out from the hole.

His brother, Greg White, said the concrete from the fall scrapped off Leonard's skin and left his arms and leg broken and numb. "There's one out of a million chance of that happening. I was shocked. I was surprised," he told CBS New York.

Shoulders suffered a spinal fracture from the fall. He who was immediately taken to hospital immediately but was not able to regain feeling in his legs, hands and arms until one month after the ordeal, the TV station reported.

His attorney, Nick Bagley, has since filed a lawsuit against the landlord of the building and the city.

"He was immediately surrounded by rats he describes as the size of puppies," Bagley told CBS. "New Yorkers' two great fears: falling through a sidewalk, and rats."

Bagley said his 33-year-old client would be left with the injuries he sustained in the fall "for the rest of his life."

"We feel they're [the landlord of the building and the city] both responsible for the maintenance of that sidewalk, which was in disarray and disrepair for many, many years," he added.

Police said the fall occurred because "a layer of sidewalk concrete just gave out", as reported by CBS New York.

New York sinkhole
File photo: Traffic passes by a sinkhole caused by a water main break in Manhatten as a man sues the city after he fell into a rats nest after the sidewalk collapsed beneath his feet. Drew Angerer/Getty

Building inspectors have reportedly since deemed the area beneath the sidewalk to be in disrepair. The Department of Buildings said the area beneath the sidewalk was in disrepair, specifically the area over the building's cellar which gave out, according to CBS.

A full vacate order has been given for the five-storey building and ordered its owner to build a green fencing around the area.

"Potential enforcement actions are pending the results of that investigation," the Department of Buildings said. "The Full Vacate Order is still in effect, and a construction fence has been erected around the building in the interest of public safety."

The investigation is said to be ongoing while the DOB ascertains whether there were any construction code violations. A sidewalk violation was reportedly issued by the Transportation Department years ago, but the department said it was ultimately the property owner's responsibility to maintain the sidewalk.

Three businesses remain closed until further notice.

White said her son is still traumatized and wants to know what caused the sidewalk to open up and swallow her son.

"It could have been anyone. It was a whole scary situation. It was my son and thank God he's alive," White said.

Newsweek has contacted the Department of Buildings and Attorney Nick Bagley for comment