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A Synysta Labor Law Case (NY)

June 10, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;"><em><a href="">Volodmyr Synysta v. 450 Partners LLC</a></em>, NY Slip Op. 50508(U), 2021 WL 2213821 (Kings County, May 20, 2021) is a Labor Law action. Plaintiff brought Labor Law §§240(1), 241(6), 200, and common law negligence claims against various parties for injuries sustained after falling from a scaffold at a construction site. In the instant motion, Plaintiff sought summary judgment on his §§ 240(1), 241(6) claims against the owner and general contractor of the premises (“defendants”).</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Plaintiff claims he fell from a Baker’s scaffold after being shocked by an electrical box, which he grabbed onto while painting. His §240(1) claim was supported by testimony that the scaffold did not have any ropes or other devices to tie off the scaffolding, and that the scaffold did not have any safety rails. Plaintiff also claimed that even if there were safety rails, they were not adequate in preventing the fall. Plaintiff’s §241(6) claim was supported by testimony that there were live wires in the workspace, and defendants failed to warn the workers about the live wires.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In response, defendants argued, <em>inter alia</em>, that the issue of whether a safety device provided proper protection is a triable issue of fact within the jury’s purview. They argued Plaintiff’s supporting evidence was insufficient to prevail on summary judgment, since he did not submit any evidence or expert report about the adequacy (or deficiency) of the scaffold’s safety measures for the work being performed. The defendants also asserted the scaffold did not fail, and that issues of fact exist about whether the scaffolding had safety rails, and if so, whether Plaintiff used them or failed to adjust them properly. Defendants further maintained there was an issue of fact as to whether Plaintiff was the sole proximate cause of the accident, based on testimony he chose not to use an accessible ladder. Furthermore, defendants asserted Plaintiff did not need to grab the electrical box to perform his painting task.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Based on the foregoing, the Court denied Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment as to both his §§240(1), 241(6) claims. As to the former, the Court noted that, generally, the issue of whether a particular safety device provided proper protection is a question of fact for the jury. A fall from a scaffold does not establish, in and of itself, that proper protection was not provided. Defendants properly raised issues of fact about the existence of safety rails on the scaffolding, including whether safety rails would have prevented Plaintiff's fall. As to the latter, the Court noted that the alleged Industrial Code violations do not unequivocally translate into a granting of summary judgment in every situation. Rather, the Industrial Code violation constitutes some evidence of negligence and “thereby reserve[s], for resolution by a jury, the issue of whether the equipment, operation or conduct at the worksite was reasonable and adequate under the particular circumstances.”</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Based on a plain reading of this decision, the main takeaway from <em>Synysta</em> is that a Labor Law § 240(1) claim can be defeated at the summary judgment stage when genuine issues of fact exist about the adequacy of the safety measures employed. As to Plaintiff’s § 241(6) claim, however, it is unclear whether the Court properly denied summary judgment. If Plaintiff properly proved violations of the specified Industrial Code provisions, perhaps the Court misinterpreted the guidance in <em>Rizzuto v. L.A. Wenger Contracting Co</em>., 91 N.Y.2d 343 (1998). If so, it would be unsurprising if an appeal followed.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to John Amato for his contribution to this post. If you have any questions or comments, please contact <a href="">Colleen Hayes</a>.</p>

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