A construction worker was injured when he fell while descending a ladder, which was permanently attached to a school building. He filed a lawsuit against the city that owned the school building, its municipal agencies that control the school, and the general contractor.
As a result of this accident, the worker filed a request with the judge to assess automatic liability against the defendants in this case. Labor Law § 240(1) (falling from height at the construction sites) provides that owners of construction sites, as well as their agents and contractors, are responsible for providing proper safety devices to protect workers from height-related injuries. If a worker falls from a ladder, and that ladder failed to provide proper protection for that worker, then the owner, its agents, and contractors, can be found to have violated Labor Law § 240(1).
The worker claimed the ladder failed to properly protect him as he was descending the ladder. The defendants opposed this request arguing that the worker did not demonstrate that the ladder was defective and that the accident occurred because the worker lost his balance, and not because the ladder failed to properly protect him.
In support of their argument, the defendants submitted an affidavit of the plaintiff’s supervisor who said that the worker told him that he fell because he lost his balance. They also pointed to the worker's testimony where he said the ladder rungs were painted black with a “roughness” and that he lost his balance and just could not hold onto the railing while he was descending. They also noted that the worker said a strong gust of wind surprised him just before the accident, but noted that the worker did not specifically say the wind caused him to fall.
The defendants also argued that the incident report, prepared after the accident, did not say that the ladder in any way failed, but instead noted that the worker lost his balance and fell.
In support of the motion, the worker hired a meteorological expert and obtained certified weather records. The expert offered a sworn affidavit in which he interpreted the wind conditions at the time of the accident. He also stated that being 100 feet off the ground – which the worker was at the time of the accident – would cause the winds to feel significantly stronger than they would to a worker on the ground.
The worker also argued that the ladder was defective because it did not comply with various federal regulations regarding external ladders. He also argued that he should have been provided with additional safety devices, such as a harness and lifeline to prevent him from falling from a height.
The court considered the motion and opposition and ultimately granted the worker summary judgment under Labor Law § 240(1). Despite this, the two sides were still not able to resolve this matter and the case proceeded to trial. However, because the issue of liability had been decided in favor of the worker, the case was tried on the issue of damages only.
Even though they could not agree on a settlement number, the two sides came to a high-low agreement at trial. High-low agreements are what they sound like. The two sides agree on a minimum amount and a maximum amount of recovery. If the jury awards the plaintiff less than a minimum settlement amount, the plaintiff gets the low amount. If the jury awards the plaintiff more than the high amount, the plaintiff gets the maximum settlement amount. If the jury awards injured worker recovery that is between the high and low number – he/she gets this number. This type of agreement lowers the risks both sides face when going to trial. The plaintiff knows he will not get less than the minimum amount, and the defendants know they will not have to pay more than the maximum amount.
In this case, the plaintiff was awarded $2,993,000 by the jury, which was more than the $2,700,000 high amount. Accordingly, judgment was entered in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $2,700,000.
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