Late last year, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department affirmed an order by the Supreme Court, Erie County granting summary judgment for the defendants in a Labor Law 240 claim. Plaintiffs had contended that the Supreme Court incorrectly granted the motion for dismissal by the defendants.
The underlying complaint involved an accident at a college dorm. As the plaintiff was removing drywall from a cart, the drywall in the cart shifted, injuring the plaintiff. At the same time, the cart itself fell and hit the plaintiff. Due to the collision, he fell, damaging his shoulder.
Labor Law 240, commonly known as the Scaffolding Act, mandates that employers must provide safety devices when employees are working at an elevation. Inherent in the law itself is a height requirement. The law is meant to protect workers when working with scaffolding, hoists, ladders, and other such devices. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, it is not a general construction safety law. As the Court notes in its decision, at the time of the accident, the plaintiff was not working at an elevated height. Nor was the cart being lifted to a height above the ground. Because the plaintiff was standing on solid ground at the time of the accident, the devices enumerated in Labor Law 240 would have been both inapplicable and impractical to implement. As a result, the Court concluded that the injuries sustained by the plaintiff “were not the direct consequence of a failure to provide as adequate device of the sort enumerated in Labor Law section 240(1).”
The Fourth Department also rejected plaintiff’s claim as to Labor Law section 241. It determined that the plaintiff did not “demonstrate a violation of a rule or regulation …which gives a specific, positive command, and is applicable to the facts of this case.” The Appellate Division also agreed with the Supreme Court that the section of the New York Code dealing with hoisting equipment was inapplicable given the facts set forth in the case.
The Scaffold Act is a strict liability statute. This means that if the defendant is found to be in violation of the statute, contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff is not taken into account. First, though, the plaintiff must show that the defendant was, in fact, in violation of the Act. Here, the plaintiff failed to do so. When the plaintiff fails to meet this initial burden, as was the case here, the Court will grant summary judgment to the defendant.
If you or someone you love has been injured on a construction site due to the negligence of an employer, contact the New York Labor Law attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC today to discuss your potential claim.