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Court Dismisses Some, But Not All, Labor Law Claims For Alleged Elevation Injury (NY)

April 21, 2023

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New York Labor Law imposes strict liability on property owners and contractors where a construction worker sustains an elevation-related injury, but the law does not apply to all worksite hazards. In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/Finnegan-v.-Thor-Equities-LLC.pdf">Finnegan v. Thor Equities, LLC</a>,</em> the Supreme Court, New York County addressed several Labor Law issues in a case where plaintiff sued a premises owner, general contractor, and subcontractors for injuries sustained when he fell after stepping in a small hole on a construction project. Plaintiff testified that his foot and ankle went into the hole and the hole was only wide enough for his shoe to fit in it. Various parties moved for summary judgment as to the affirmative claims, cross claims and contractual claims.

The Court initially denied motions relating to plaintiff’s §240(1) claim, finding that fact issues existed as to whether the size and depth of the hole was enough to render it a “gravity-related” hazard under that section. The Court noted that there is no “bright line minimum height differential” that determines whether an elevation hazard exists. It found that the size of the hole might have limited the distance a worker could fall, but fact issues existed as to whether the hole was a “gravity-related” hazard.

One subcontractor also disputed the applicability of §240[1], arguing that it was not an agent of the general contractor or owner. The Court acknowledged that § 240(1) does not automatically apply to all subcontractors on a site and a plaintiff must show that the defendant exercised control over plaintiff, the work area or the work that gave rise to the injury. The Court found that the subcontractor established that it was not an agent of the general contractor or owner, but there were fact issues as to whether the subcontractor had the responsibility to correct the condition at issue.

The Court also denied motions as to plaintiff’s Labor Law §200 and common law negligence claims. §200 is a codification of the common-law duty of landowners, general contractors and their agents to provide a safe workplace. A property owner is liable under § 200 when the owner created the dangerous condition causing an injury or failed to remedy a dangerous or defective condition of which he or she had actual or constructive notice.” Where the injury was caused by the manner and means of the work, the owner or general contractor is liable if they exercised supervisory control over the work. The Court found that there were fact issues as to whether the accident was caused by a dangerous condition at the site or the means and methods of the work, so summary judgment as to those claims was not appropriate.

However, the Court did award summary judgment as to plaintiff’s Labor Law §241(6) claims, which require that plaintiff show that his injuries were proximately caused by a violation of an applicable Industrial Code section. To be entitled to summary judgment, a defendant is required to show that the section(s) pled by plaintiff were not concrete, inapplicable or did not cause the alleged injuries. The Court evaluated certain code sections identified by plaintiff and found that they did not apply and therefore the §241(6) claims should be dismissed.

The <em>Finnegan</em> decision is a good example of how New York courts will examine the specific burdens of proof and defenses applicable to each claim and that Labor Law claims are sufficiently distinct for a court to dismiss some, but not all, of the claims. Defense counsel should be aggressive in seeking dismissal of claims where there is a basis to do so.

Thank you to Arianna Arca for her contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="agibbs@wcmlaw.com">Andrew Gibbs</a> with any questions.

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