Under New York law, contractors, owners, and their agents must generally provide certain safety equipment to protect workers involved in the construction of a structure. Labor Law § 240(1) provides protection to employees who are engaged in work that involves elevation and risks of falling. If, however, the plaintiff’s own actions are the sole proximate cause of the injuries, the contractors, owners, and agents will not be held liable.
A New York trial court recently considered whether a plaintiff was the sole proximate cause of his fall from a ladder when no one was securing it in Marquez v. New York Stone Company, Inc. The plaintiff filed suit after falling from a ladder at a work site on property owned by the City of New York and the Board of Education. The New York City School Construction Authority had hired the general contractor, which in turn hired the plaintiff’s employer to perform work on the windows. The city, the Board of Education, the School Construction Authority, and the general contractor were all defendants in the action.
The plaintiff moved for summary judgment on liability under Labor Law § 240(1), alleging that he was not provided with proper safety equipment to prevent a fall. The defendants argued that they were not liable because the plaintiff’s own failure to secure the ladder caused his injury.
In the affidavit attached to the motion, the plaintiff stated that his boss had told him on the day before the accident to go to the school to replace the windows. He said his “co-worker and supervisor” told him to do construction work on the windows in the first-floor cafeteria, using an extension/leaning ladder the supervisor had brought to the site. The plaintiff had removed the window and begun preparations to erect the new window when the ladder “moved, slipped and fell down.” The plaintiff stated he fell several feet and hit the floor. The plaintiff stated he was not provided with any lifelines or scaffolding, and no one was holding the ladder when he fell. He had his own harness, but he said he could not use it because there was nothing to which to attach it where he was working. He stated that he had not been told not to stand on the ladder without the harness being secured.
The plaintiff said that he was not provided safety equipment and that no one had gone over safety issues with him. The plaintiff testified at his deposition that the co-worker had brought the ladder to the site and told the plaintiff which windows to work on. He testified that he could not put the ladder directly in front of the window because a television was in the way. The co-worker told him not to move the television because they had found that the screws were not safe when they moved it earlier. The plaintiff said that he had to bend “a little towards the right” to perform the work, due to the location of the ladder.
The general contractor’s site superintendent testified that he had not spoken to the plaintiff before the accident, but he had spoken to the plaintiff’s partner, who was “in charge.” The superintendent said he told the plaintiff’s partner that someone should stay on the ground and hold the ladder. He came to the scene of the fall while the plaintiff was still on the floor. He stated that he concluded that the ladder slipped because no one was holding it.
The safety inspector for the School Construction Authority testified in a deposition that he inspected the site after the accident and obtained information from the site superintendent. His report indicated that the plaintiff had been on an unsecured ladder that slipped.
The plaintiff argued that the defendants had failed to provide him with proper safety equipment and fall protection and were therefore liable for his injuries.
The court found that the plaintiff had established a prima facie case for judgment as a matter of law for § 240 liability. The defendants argued that the plaintiff had refused to follow “explicit instructions” not to use the ladder unless someone was holding it and was therefore the sole proximate cause of his own injuries. The defendants cited to the testimony of the superintendent, but the superintendent had testified that he had not spoken with the plaintiff.
Once the plaintiff made his prima facie case, the defendants would have to raise a triable issue of fact to survive summary judgment. The court noted that to raise an issue of fact as to the plaintiff being the sole proximate cause, the defendants would have to submit evidence that adequate safety equipment had been available, that the plaintiff knew the equipment was available and that he was supposed to use it, and that he failed to do so unreasonably, causing his injury.
The court found that the defendants did not even argue that the plaintiff had been given anything other than the ladder to do his work. The defendants did not have any evidence to counter the plaintiff’s testimony that the ladder he used was the only one provided to him, that he had set it up properly and engaged the lock, and that there was no one to hold the ladder because the other workers were working on other windows at the time the plaintiff fell.
The court granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment.
New York construction accident attorney Nicolas Rose knows that courts should not let defendants blame a plaintiff for an accident that occurred because someone failed to provide the plaintiff with the proper equipment to safely do the job. The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. If you have been injured in a fall while working in construction, call 1-877-313-7673.
Marquez v. New York Stone Company, Inc., April 18, 2016, Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of the Bronx
More Blog Entries:
N.Y. Construction Firms Must Provide Workers With Proper Protection, March 15, 2014, New York City Injury Lawyer Blog