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Even NY Scaffold Law Has Its Limitations

February 24, 2010

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New York’s Labor Law §240(1), commonly known as the Scaffold Law, imposes strict liability on building owners and general contractors for injuries sustained by workers caused by a falling object (or a falling worker), if that fall was due to failure to erect protective scaffolding, hoists, ladders, etc. The strict liability aspect of this statute makes it very difficult for owners and general contractors to avoid responsibility for injuries at worksites. Essentially, if a person is injured at a worksite, either by falling from an elevation or because something fell from an elevation onto them, failure to have properly secured that person or object triggers §240(1).
In Garzon v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the First Department's decision demonstrates that the Scaffold Law has its limits. The plaintiff worker was injured when a caulk gun fell and somehow injured him after he had left it on a rung of the ladder. Plaintiff cited Labor Law §240(1), arguing that an improperly secured object fell, causing him the falling object caused personal injury.
The Court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Labor Law §240(1), as the plaintiff presented no evidence that a faulty ladder (or lack of a ladder) was the proximate cause of the injury. The Court also put the reins on the Scaffold Law to some extent, holding that the "falling" of this object was not within the prescribed application of the law. The Scaffold Law was drafted to mandate that when elevations are involved in worksites, proper steps should be taken to secure persons and objects from falling. The Court ruled that this injury was not related to the elevation of the caulk gun, which is the type of scenario to which the Scaffold Law should apply. Accordingly, the court held that just because the injury here happened to involve a ladder and a falling caulk gun should not automatically trigger strict liability under §240(1).
Thanks to Brian Gibbons for his contribution to this post.
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