The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports roughly 65 percent of private sector construction industry workers – about 2.3 million – have duties that include work on scaffolding. It is estimated 4,500 injuries and more than 60 days occur annually as a result of falls or other accidents involving scaffolding.
In New York, compensation for injury and death related to scaffolding falls and accidents are generally handled under the state’s workers’ compensation laws. However, there are some instances in which non-employer third parties may be held legally liable for damages. A worker in these cases might be able to collect both workers’ compensation and third-party damages.
For example, building and site owners where the accident occurs may be responsible when breaches of safety protocol or other acts of negligence result in a worker’s fall and subsequent injury.
There are, of course, exceptions. One of those involves single homeowner renovation and construction projects. Pursuant to New York Labor Law 240 and 241, owners of one-family and two-family homes who contract for but do not direct or control the work of construction or renovation can’t be held liable for worker injuries or deaths. The law is not applicable to homeowners who use those premises solely for commercial purposes.
Our Manhattan construction accident lawyers understand this issue became central for plaintiff in Farias v. Simon, a case recently reviewed by the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department.
According to plaintiff, he was working on a renovation project at the owner/defendant’s one-family home in October 2005 when he suffered a fall from a scaffold and was seriously injured. Plaintiff sought compensation from the homeowner, but the lower court granted summary judgment to defendant on the basis of the aforementioned labor laws allowing homeowner exemption for non-commercial properties.
This might seem a relatively straightforward matter, but it was complicated by the fact homeowner never lived at the site and later decided to lease it – making it a commercial property.
Court records indicate owners acquired the property through an inheritance in the summer of 2004, and began renovation the following summer. Defendant testified the house was to be renovated for the purpose of modernizing it so it could be used as a second home. Owners never occupied the home, and decided in the spring of 2007 to lease it out.
The issue before the appellate division was whether the worker, at the time of the accident, was performing work that was for the homeowners’ commercial use of the structure.
The appellate division was divided on the issue of whether summary judgment was appropriate, but the majority ruled homeowner had demonstrated entitlement to the homeowners’ exemption of liability by showing it was a one-family home and they did not control or direct plaintiff’s work. Further, homeowners provided proof the renovation project – $750,000 total – included far more extensive work than what would have been necessary to make it move-in ready as a rental property.
That shifted the proof burden to plaintiff to prove the home was solely intended for commercial purposes from the start. Homeowner failed to reach that burden, with the court finding his argument was based on unfounded speculation.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Farias v. Simon, Nov. 18, 2014, New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department
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Powers v 31 E 31 LLC – New York Apartment Fall Liability Lawsuit to Proceed, Nov. 8, 2014, Manhattan Scaffold Fall Attorney