An accident at work, requires a focus on the New York State Labor Law. A man had an accident at work while on stilts. The man’s work involved taping and spackling the kitchen ceiling of a single-family home. While doing so, the stilts allegedly became entangled in an electrical cable or wire on the floor. This caused the man to lose his balance and fall to the ground, and sustain injuries. The man, who is about five feet tall, was working on a ceiling approximately nine to ten feet tall. He therefore needed to extend his stilts to their maximum height of 40 inches.
The man sued the drywall subcontractor to recover damages for personal injuries. He claimed the subcontractor violated Labor Law §200, §240(1), and §241(6). Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment dismissing the claim.
Lower Court’s Analysis of Work Accident Case
The lower court held that defendant could dismiss the Labor Law §200 claim. The lower court said there was no evidence of a violation since the subcontractor did not create nor had notice of the dangerous condition (the cable) from which the man allegedly sustained his injury. Accident at Work will take into account the labor law of New York.
Likewise, the lower court held the defendant could dismiss the Labor Law §240(1) claim. The lower court cited a Court of Appeals decision which held an injured carpenter while walking down a corridor wearing 42-inch stilts that he used to install metal studs in drywall and who tripped over an electrical conduit protruding from an unfinished floor had no cause of action based on Labor Law §240(1). The Court of Appeals reasoned the carpenter’s injury resulted from the floor’s conduit, not the stilt’s failure. Therefore, the injury did not result from an elevation-related risk. Here, the lower court held the injured worker failed to distinguish his case from the Court of Appeals case, which goes against him.
Worker’s Labor Law Section 241(6) Claim
The lower court, however, held the injured worker was entitled to proceed with his Labor Law §241(6) case of action. This section states areas in which construction is being performed shall be guarded, arranged, operated, and conducted in a manner which provides “reasonable and adequate protection and safety to the persons therein.” The nondelegable duty is imposed by Labor Law §241(6) upon owners and contractors and their agents.
The lower court explained that a cause of action based on Labor Law § 241(6) must refer to a violation of the specific standards set forth in the implementing regulations. The plaintiff must allege a violation of more than the general safety standards of the Industrial Code.
In this case, the court held Industrial Code Section 12 NYCRR 23-5.22 applies. This section, relates to stilts and is specific enough to provide a basis for a Labor Law §241(6) claim. The court stated a violation existed since the stilts elevated plaintiff more than 24 inches above the floor. Because of this, the subcontractor needed to keep the floor clear of obstructions. The court pointed out the worker used his stilts to work 40-inches above a floor with a cable upon it.
The Subcontractor’s Role as Agent
The lower court further explained that the subcontractor is liable under Labor Law §241(6) as a statutory “agent”. A subcontractor is liable in situations at construction sites where it is authorized to supervise and control the activity causing the worker’s injuries. Here, the court held an issue of fact existed of whether or not the subcontractor had authority to supervise the plaintiff’s work. The court reasoned defendant’s supervisor admitted his company directed the course of construction and he was at the job site every day or every other day. He would tell subcontractors engaged in dangerous activities to cease doing so. Therefore, the lower court held an issue of fact existed of whether the subcontractor functioned as general contractor’s statutory agent. Defendant appealed. Accident at Work does have to follow the New York State labor Law.
On appeal, the Second Department affirmed the lower court’s decision. It held the lower court properly denied defendant’s motion to dismiss the Labor Law §241 (6) cause of action. Based on this the worker could move forward to trial on his accident at work case.