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How employers try to dismiss construction accident cases?

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19 August 2019
Construction Accident

A laborer was injured when he was performing the renovation of a school.  While working at the school, the laborer fell through the frame of a scaffold onto the ground when the platform portion of the scaffold collapsed.  He sued the property owner for his injuries and economic damages under Labor Law § 240(1).

Labor Law § 240(1) protects construction workers from gravity-related risks such as falling from a height or being struck by a falling object.  The statute states that construction site owners and general contractors are held strictly liable for violations of Labor Law § 240(1) regardless of whether they control the work being performed. The plaintiff's (injured worker) comparative fault cannot be considered, which makes this statute very plaintiff-friendly.  However, there are limits to this statute.  To sue under Labor Law § 240(1) the plaintiff must demonstrate that they were engaged in one of the mentioned-covered construction activities at the time of the accident. 

Following the initial stage of the legal process - discovery, the injured laborer filed a request with the judge to assess liability against the defendants in this case. In support of his application, the injured laborer argued that the property owner was liable for his injuries and economic damages because the scaffold collapsed for no apparent reason while he was working atop it.

The property owner argued that the worker’s actions in failing to use clips to secure the platform to the scaffold was the sole cause of his accident and injuries.  As a result, the judge denied the injured worker’s request finding that there is an issue of fact as to what caused this accident that would require a jury trial. The injured worker appealed.

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision and granted the plaintiff’s request under Labor Law § 240(1).  The appellate court held that Labor Law § 240(1) imposes an inescapable duty on owners of construction sites to provide scaffolding that properly protects workers while they are working at height.  The collapse of the scaffold here created a presumption that the scaffold failed to protect the injured laborer.  And since the injured worker was performing protected repair work at the time of his accident, the injured worker met his initial burden of establishing an entitlement to find the defendants in this case strictly responsible for his accident.

The appellate court also found that the property owner did not raise an issue of fact which would necessitate sending the issue of liability under Labor Law § 240(1) to a jury.  A worker’s comparative negligence is not a defense to a cause of action under Labor Law § 240(1).  Only where the worker’s own conduct is the sole proximate cause of the accident, is recovery under Labor Law § 240(1) unavailable.

Here, the property owner’s argument that the injured worker was the sole immediate cause of his accident because he failed to utilize clips to secure the platform to the frame of the scaffold, was unconvincing to the appellate court.  In support of this argument, the property owner only submitted an affidavit from the injured laborer’s supervisor who said that there were no clips at the job site.  This affidavit, which was dated nearly 2 ½ years after the accident did not explain what type of search was undertaken to determine if there were clips on the job site.  In addition, the absence of these clips was not noted in any of the three incident reports prepared by the supervisor in the days following the injured laborer’s accident. 

The appellate court found the supervisor’s statements that had the clips been used the platform would not have collapsed and that the platform had not been properly “seated” or “decked” on the scaffold to have been conclusory and thus insufficient to deny the injured laborer’s motion for summary judgment.

Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the trial court and granted the injured laborer’s motion for summary judgment and remanded the case for a trial on the issue of damages only.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of an accident, please reach out to us for a free legal consultation by calling us 24/7 at 212– 514–5100, emailing me at swp@plattalaw.com, or visiting our law firm in lower Manhattan (42 Broadway, Suite 1927). You can also ask us questions through the 24-hour chat box on our website (www.plattalaw.com). We offer free consultations for all potential personal injury cases.

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