The New York Court of Appeals recently extended the scope of New York labor law in an interesting decision titled Runner v. New York Stock Exchange.
This action was commenced in Federal Court by an electrician, Victor Runner, to recover damages for injuries he sustained while engaged in a major rehabilitation project at the New York Stock Exchange. The accident occurred as plaintiff and his co-workers were attempting to move a large reel of cable, weighing in excess of 800 pounds, from one part of the building complex to another. The cable reel needed to be moved down a short flight of stairs, but no hoisting device was provided for the workers’ use. Accordingly, plaintiff’s supervisor directed his crew to use a rope to restrain the reel as it was rolled down the steps.At the foreman’s direction, the rope was affixed to the reel and wound several times around a pipe, which was placed behind a door jamb in order to serve as a brake. Plaintiff and two co-workers stood behind the pipe, holding the free end of the rope. After two other co-workers moved the reel to the stairway, the reel descended quickly. Plaintiff was dragged forward toward the pipe and his right hand was crushed between the pipe and rope. As a result of the accident, four fingers of plaintiff’s right hand were severed, and plaintiff fractured his right thumb and two fingers on his left hand.
Plaintiff’s Complaint alleged, inter alia, violations of Labor Law § 240(1) on the part of the owner of the Stock Exchange facility and the general contractor for the project. Labor Law § 240(1), 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. Courts generally construe section 240(1) as liberally as possible to accomplish the legislative intent to protect workers against the “special hazards” that arise when either the worksite is elevated or is positioned below the level where materials or load is hoisted or secured. Although liberally construed, section 240(1) only allows recovery against “special hazards” from elevation-related risks, such as falling from a height (known as the “falling man hazard”), or being struck by a falling object being improperly hoisted or inadequately secured (known as the “falling object hazard”). The duty imposed by § 240(1) 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(1).