On January 30, 2007, Eddie Goodwin was on the fourth day of working to install wood paneling and molding at the Dix Hills Jewish Center in Dix Hills, New York when he was injured after falling from an unstable ladder. In preparing to lay the paneling, Goodwin had removed several fixtures from the walls – including two audio speakers. As the job was nearing its completion on the fourth day, a Rabbi employed by the temple asked Goodwin to re-install the speakers. Because rehanging the speakers would involve drilling holes and installing brackets, Goodwin used a ladder that was at the temple. After successfully installing the first speaker, Goodwin was in the process of installing the second speaker when the ladder “started swinging” and he subsequently fell from the ladder’s fourth rung and sustained injuries.
Goodwin sued the temple under New York Labor Law § 240 (1) which would hold the temple responsible for Goodwin’s injuries if Goodwin were damaged while “altering the building at the time of his accident.” The temple argued that because he was merely installing speakers, and therefore was not “altering” the building. On the other hand, Goodwin pointed to evidence of drilling holes and installing brackets as evidence that the speaker installation should be construed as an “alteration” of the building.
The New York Supreme Court, the lower court in the State of New York, agreed with the temple. However, the Appellate Division of New York disagreed with the lower court and overturned its ruling. The Appellate Division stated New York Labor Laws were meant to “protect workers form injury” and therefore, the statutes should be “construed as liberally as may be for the accomplishment of that purpose.”
The Court further reasoned that Goodwin was only at the temple for the purpose of installing wood paneling – which “constituted a physical change to the configuration or composition of the building.” Noting that the only reason that the audio speakers had been removed from the wall was to install the wood paneling, the Appellate Division said that this work was “ancillary” or connected to his covered activity, and he was therefore entitled to protections under the Labor Law.
In addition, the Appellate Division also ruled that the ladder was “defective” under the Labor Law definition because it was inadequately secured and therefore did not provide “proper protection.” The Court upheld the dismissal of numerous other causes of action asserted by the plaintiff.