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Beware the elevation-related risk sitting firmly on the ground - NY Labor Law §240

June 10, 2016

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Beware the elevation-related risk sitting firmly on the ground
Labor Law § 240(1) requires property owners, construction companies, and contractors to protect their workers from elevation-related risks, often either falls from a height or injuries from falling objects. However, the First Department has recently confirmed that Labor Law § 240(1) liability can attach to items that have yet to leave the ground.
In <a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Grant-v-Solomon-R-Guggenheim-Museum.pdf">Grant v Solomon R Guggenheim Museum</a>, plaintiff was standing on the back of a flatbed truck to help offload a crate of window glass. While preparing the crate for offloading it tipped over onto plaintiff, knocking him off the truck and onto the ground, four feet below. Both plaintiff and the defendant museum and general contractor cross-moved for summary judgment on plaintiff’s Labor Law § 240(1) claim, and the trial court ruled for co-defendants and dismissed plaintiff’s complaint.
The First Department unanimously reversed the trial court’s ruling and granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on his Labor Law § 240(1) claim, holding that plaintiff had established a prima facie case that he was injured due to an elevation-related risk. The court ruled that due to the height of the crate (6ft tall) and the weight of the crate (at least 1,500 pounds), the force generated by the crate’s fall did not pose a de minimis elevation-related risk, meaning defendants were liable for plaintiff’s injury. The court further determined that the crate should have been secured while being prepared for moving, and that it was undisputed that devices that should have been used to stabilize the crate were not in fact used. The court also declined to rule that plaintiff was the “sole proximate cause” of his injury—one of the sole defenses available to Labor Law § 240(1) defendants—because he was not provided with proper safety devices as he maneuvered the crate using a Johnson bar.
The court did however uphold the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s Labor Law §200 claim, ruling that the positioning of the flatbed truck at the time of plaintiff’s accident was a temporary condition necessary for the work rather than a dangerous worksite condition, and that the museum and general contractor were not liable because they exercised no supervision or control over it.
Thanks to Peter Luccarelli for his contribution.
For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at dricci@wcmlaw.com.

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