8 July 2019
In a case involving Labor Law § 240(1), a masonry company was hired by a building owner to perform work on its building. That masonry company hired a fabricating company to fabricate sills, lintels, and coping stones for the project. Part of the job of fabricating these materials included workers going to the work site and taking measurements prior to the fabrication. The sills, lintels, and coping stones were fabricated offsite at their workshop.
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 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 enumerated covered construction activities at the time of the accident.
While taking measurements in preparation for fabricating coping stones on the roof of the building, a worker fell from the roof to a terrace approximately 10 to 12 feet below, and suffered a traumatic brain injury, resulting in a total loss of memory of the accident. He was on an exterior setback roof that was located on the fourth floor outside the terrace. Located on top of the exterior setback roof was a mechanical roof. There were no guardrails erected on the mechanical roof level, nor were there any safety nets erected underneath the mechanical roof level. There were also no guardrails or safety nets on the perimeter of the setback roof level either to prevent the worker from falling from the roof.
The worker and his wife sued the building and the masonry company under Labor Law § 240(1). Following discovery, plaintiff (the injured worker) and both defendants moved for summary judgment. The trial court dismissed the claims brought by the plaintiff against both defendants.
The plaintiff appealed arguing that he was performing protected work under Labor Law § 240(1) at the time of his accident. The appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision, reasoning that to be afforded protection under Labor Law § 240(1), a plaintiff must demonstrate that they suffered injury on a building or structure by the owner, its contractor, or its agent and that they were engaged in a covered activity as defined by the statute.
Here, the court held that plaintiff’s company had been hired to fabricate sills, lintels, and coping stones to be used in the construction of the subject building. Since, part of that job included going to the work site and climbing to the roof of the building to take measurements in preparation for the fabrication, the injured plaintiff was performing a task in preparation to the construction work at the time of his accident and was thus engaged in a "covered activity" within the meaning of Labor Law § 240(1).
In addition, the plaintiff established an entitlement to summary judgment on his claims under Labor Law § 240(1) because both defendants testified that there were no safety devices present on the jobsite to aid the plaintiff in his work. The plaintiff successfully established that this constituted a violation of Labor Law §240(1) and that this violation was a proximate cause of his accident and injuries.
The appellate court also found that the masonry company qualified as either a general contractor or agent of the owner as contemplated by Labor Law § 240(1) since it had the authority to supervise and control the particular work in which the injured plaintiff was engaged at the time of his injury. Accordingly, plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment against the masonry company, as well. The case was then remanded and settled before trial.
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