We recently obtained a dismissal of an interesting lawsuit that was pending in the New York Supreme Court, County of Queens. Our firm represented the defendant general contractor in the litigation.
This case was brought by an electrician who fell off a ladder during the construction of a restaurant in the food court of the Manhattan Mall in New York City. Plaintiff alleged that as he was standing on the third or fourth rung of a ladder, the ladder slipped and caused him to fall. As he fell, his left arm hit an open electrical wire and he received an electrical shock. Plaintiff alleged that the ladder fell because he had inadvertently placed one of the ladder legs on a wire nut, many of which littered the floor. Plaintiff denied that he left the wire nuts on the floor. Plaintiff further alleged that the floor of the electrical room was uneven. As a result of the fall, plaintiff sustained a large laceration on his forearm and injured both of his shoulders. He underwent an acromioplasty, acromioclavicular resection, and subacromial decompression on his right shoulder.
Plaintiff brought Labor Law §§ 200, 240, 241, and common law negligence claims against our general contractor client, as well as the restaurant and the owner of the Manhattan Mall. Labor Law § 200 is a general negligence liability regulation. It requires that all construction projects be constructed, equipped, and operated to provide reasonable and adequate protection for the safety of employees. Section 200 does not impose strict liability for its breach; rather, plaintiff must show that the defendant had actual supervision or control over the manner in which the plaintiff conducted his work.
Labor Law § 240, commonly referred to as the “scaffold law,” requires that all contractors, owners, and their agents furnish or erect scaffolding, hoists, ladders, ropes, etc., to give proper protection from “elevation-related risks” to a person employed in the erection, demolition, or repairing of a building. The duty imposed by § 240 is nondelegable and an owner or contractor who breaches this duty may be held liable regardless of whether it has actually exercised supervision or control over the work. Further, the contributory negligence of plaintiff is no defense to claims under § 240.
In order for plaintiff to establish a cause of action under § 240, he must show that there was a statutory violation which contributed to his injuries. Plaintiff argued, inter alia, that the wire nut and other debris on the floor were in violation of N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 12, § 23-1.7 (e) (2), which provides:
(2) Working areas. The parts of floors, platforms and similar areas where persons work or pass shall be kept free from accumulations of dirt and debris and from scattered tools and materials and from sharp projections insofar as may be consistent with the work being performed.
Labor Law § 241 also imposes a nondelegable duty upon owners and contractors to provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety to construction workers — whether or not they are working at an elevated height. To recover under § 241, a plaintiff must establish the violation of an Industrial Code provision which sets forth specific applicable safety standards. Plaintiff based his § 241 claim on defendants’ alleged violation of N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 12, § 23-1.7 (e) (2). Unlike under § 240, however, contributory and comparative negligence are valid defenses to claims asserted under § 241.
On behalf of our general contractor client, we filed a third-party complaint against plaintiff’s employer, seeking contractual indemnification for any judgment plaintiff may have obtained, as well as costs and attorneys’ fees incurred in the defense of this matter. The co-defendant restaurant and owner of the Manhattan Mall thereafter filed a second third-party complaint against the plaintiff’s employer seeking essentially the same relief.
The case involved two years of rigorous discovery efforts, hard fought discovery motions, and comprehensive depositions of plaintiff, his employer, former coworkers, and representatives of the parties. At the conclusion of discovery, we filed a motion for summary judgment against plaintiff and plaintiff’s employer. Plaintiff cross-moved for summary judgment in response.
After extensive motion practice, the Hon. Martin Schulman granted our motion for summary judgment and dismissed all claims against our client. The Court held that plaintiff failed to proffer sufficient evidence to defeat the arguments made in our motion that there was no requisite Industrial Code violation by our client and that plaintiff was the sole cause of the alleged incident. Additionally, we successfully obtained judgment over the plaintiff’s employer for full indemnification of our client, including all costs and attorneys’ fees incurred by our client in defending this claim.
For additional materials regarding this litigation or to discuss procedures that you can implement to minimize lawsuits like this, please contact Christopher Renzulli.