January 2, 2015: Renzulli Law Firm, LLP recently obtained a complete dismissal of all claims against a premises owner and large contractor on an appeal to the New York Appellate Division, First Department.  In a lawsuit titled Brown v. New York Hospital Medical Center, a case previously pending in the New York Supreme Court, County of New York, our firm represented the defendant general contractor and the property owner.  Plaintiff claimed that he was injured due to defendants’ violation of New York’s statutory Labor Law and Industrial Code.

On June 19, 2008, plaintiff was employed as a stone mason working on a construction project at New York Hospital.  He was standing on top of a trailer and directing a crane operator in lifting materials off the truck.  After a half hour on the trailer, his left leg fell through a hole on the trailer and he injured his leg.  Plaintiff and his wife sued the owner of the premises and the construction manager for the construction project, and claimed that they violated Labor Law §§ 200, 240, and 241(6).

Labor Law

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.

Labor Law § 241(6) 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 section 241, a plaintiff must establish the violation of an Industrial Code provision which sets forth specific applicable safety standards.  Plaintiff claimed that defendants violated N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 12, § 23-1.7(b) and 23-9.2(a), which provided the predicate violations for application of Labor Law § 241(6).  Section 23-1.7(b)(1) requires, inter alia, that “hazardous openings into which a person may step or fall” shall be guarded.  Section 23-9.2(a) requires that any “structural defect or unsafe condition” in any “power-operated equipment” shall be repaired or replaced.

Summary Judgment

The case involved over two years of rigorous discovery efforts and comprehensive depositions of plaintiff, witnesses, and representatives of the parties.  At the conclusion of discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment, asserting that the established facts show: i) there was no violation of Labor Law § 200 (negligence) because defendants neither supervised or controlled plaintiff’s work nor had notice of the hole; ii) there was no violation of section 240(1) (the “Scaffold Law”) because plaintiff was not exposed to any exceptionally dangerous condition as a result of the elevation differential between the floor of the trailer and the ground; and iii) there was no violation of section 241(6) because no applicable Industrial Codes were violated.  Specifically, defendants argued that Industrial Code section 23-1.7(b)(1) (“Hazardous openings”) did not apply because the hole was not large enough for a person to fall through, and section 23-9.2(a) (unsafe “Power-Operated Equipment”) did not apply because a flatbed trailer is not power operated equipment.  In response to defendants’ motion, plaintiff cross-moved for summary judgment, alleging defendants violated the above Labor Laws given the facts of this case.  The trial court denied both the motion and cross-motion, and held that: “The plaintiff establishes he is entitled to the protection of Labor Law § 240(1) and accordingly the motion is denied en toto. The cross-motion is denied as there are issues of fact in dispute precluding the granting of the cross motion.”

Appeal to the First Department

Defendants immediately appealed the decision of the trial court to the Appellate Division, First Department.  After lengthy briefing and oral arguments, in a unanimous decision, the First Department reversed the decision of the trial court and dismissed plaintiff’s Complaint in its entirety.  Essentially, the First Department adopted the arguments and reasoning put forth by defendants, and held that the defendants’ lack of supervision of plaintiff or notice of the hole prior to the incident precluded plaintiff’s Labor Law § 200 (negligence) claim.  Further, the flatbed trailer was of insufficient height to invoke application of Labor Law § 240(1) (the “Scaffold Law”).  Finally, Industrial Code section 23-1.7(b)(1) did not apply because the hole was too small, and section 23-9.2(a) did not apply because a flatbed trailer – even when attached to a semi-truck– is not power operated equipment.  The Appellate Division, therefore, dismissed the plaintiff’s Complaint in its entirety.  A copy of the court’s decision can be found here.

For additional materials regarding this litigation or to discuss procedures that you can implement to minimize lawsuits like this, please contact John V. Tait.