Section 240 of the New York Labor Law is often referred to as the “Scaffold Law” because it protects construction workers who work at heights and are at risk of falling. The statute places liability on owners and contractors who fail to give workers adequate safety equipment. Section 240(1), however, does not apply only when workers fall but can also apply when workers are injured by falling objects. The Supreme Court in New York County recently considered a summary judgment motion in a case involving both a falling worker and a falling object in Gericitano v. Brookfield Properties OLP Co., LLC.
The plaintiff filed suit against several defendants under Labor Law § 240(1) and moved for partial summary judgment. The plaintiff was a journeyman electrician who was working at the site of an electrical renovation on the 32nd floor. He was instructed to finish the installation of a transformer that had been partially installed on the day before. The transformer was in a closet, suspended from the ceiling.
The plaintiff testified that the accident occurred while he was trimming the rods by which the transformer was suspended from the ceiling. The transformer struck him in the head and knocked him off the ladder. He also hit his head on the ground and was rendered unconscious.
His coworker witnessed the accident. The coworker testified that the accident happened when they were removing chain fall that was wrapped around the rod. The coworker said that they decided to remove the rod to remove the chain fall because there was not another way to remove the chain fall that was “readily available.” The coworker testified that they had asked supervision if there was anything else available, and there was no type of lifting device that could support the transformer in the closet because there was not enough space for such a device. The coworker testified that he did not remember the ladder was knocked over. He also stated he did not think the plaintiff hit the ground after being hit by the transformer.
The court noted that Labor Law § 240(1) has been applied to both falling worker and falling object cases. In terms of falling objects, the plaintiff must show that the object fell from a height because a safety device like those listed in the statute was missing or inadequate.
The plaintiff here argued that his claims were related to a falling object that was not adequately secured and to his own fall as a result of inadequate safety devices. The court first considered the claim as related to the plaintiff’s own fall. The court found that the plaintiff had established a prima facie case that he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The plaintiff had testified he fell from a ladder that was not adequately secured. The coworker’s testimony, however, raised an issue of fact as to whether the plaintiff was knocked off the ladder and hit his head on the ground. The plaintiff, therefore, was not entitled to summary judgment on his § 240 claim as related to his own fall.
The court found differently on the falling object claim, however. The plaintiff made his prima facie case with his undisputed testimony that the transformer was not adequately secured when it hit him. The defendants failed to raise a disputed issue of fact to defeat the plaintiff’s case. The defendants argued that there was an issue of fact regarding whether the plaintiff was the sole proximate cause of the incident. However, to succeed on that argument, the defendants would have to submit evidence that safety devices were available, and the plaintiff unreasonably failed to use them, despite knowing that they were available and that he was expected to use them. The court noted that even if it did not find the plaintiff’s testimony about how the accident happened credible, the defendants had not raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the plaintiff was the sole proximate cause. The plaintiff’s coworker had testified that they had considered alternative means of removing the chain fall but found that none was readily available. The coworker testified that they asked “supervision,” and there was not a lifting device they could use, due to the limited space in the closet. The defendant therefore had failed to show that there were safety devices available that the plaintiff had unreasonably chosen not to use and consequently failed to show the plaintiff was the sole proximate cause of the accident. The court granted partial summary judgment as to liability on the § 240(1) claim.
Our New York construction accident attorney Nicholas Rose understands that § 240(1) can apply to falling objects as well as falling workers. If you have been injured on a construction site as a result of inadequate safety devices, call 1-877-313-7673, The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations.
More Blog Entries:
New York Labor Law Claims for Worker’s Injury at Construction Site, August 18, 2016, New York City Injury Lawyer Blog
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