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Defending the Labor Law 200 Claim

November 5, 2008

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New York's Labor Law section 200 is a statutory restatement of an owner's common law duty to provide workers with a safe place to work. In Ortega v. Puccia, an appellate court explains that there are two avenues to liability (and thus two avenues of defense) when it comes to a section 200 claim. One category of case is where the worker is injured as a result of "dangerous or defective premises conditions" at the site. A second category of case is where the injury occurs as a result of "the manner in which the work is performed."
In the Ortega case, the owner hired a contractor to do sheetrock work at his home. The contractor employed the plaintiff and provided the plaintiff with a scaffold. The plaintiff fell from the scaffold because the wheels did not lock and the scaffold moved. The court granted summary judgment to the owner because "the accident did not involve any dangerous or defective condition on the defendants' premises. The accident instead involved the manner in which the plaintiff performed the work, which was not supervised by the [owner], and which was performed on equipment provided by the plaintiff's employer, not by the [owner]."
As a practical matter, owners who might wiggle out of a section 200 claim are usually still stuck with liability under the broader sweep of Labor Law sections 240 and/or 241. In this case, however, the owner escaped section 240 and 241 liability based upon the exclusion in those statutes applicable to owners of one- and two-family homes who do not direct or control the work. Thus, in this case, the section 200 claim became the plaintiff's last hope and the court's analysis is helpful to defendants in mapping out a successful defense to such claims.


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