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Iron Worker... Ladder... Elevation... No Labor Law § 240 Claim (NY)

January 26, 2017

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Labor Law § 240 requires property owners, construction companies, and contractors to protect their workers from elevation-related risks, and holds them strictly liable for plaintiff’s injuries if they fail to do so. Counsel in Labor Law cases therefore spend large amounts of time and effort litigating whether plaintiff’s injuries implicate Labor Law § 240, as the answer will often significantly affect a case’s value. The Second Department’s recent decision in <a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Guallpa-v-Canarsie-Plaza-LLC-2016-NY-Slip-Op-08046.pdf">Guallpa v Canarsie Plaza, LLC</a> informs us, however, that not all plaintiffs injured off the ground may assert Labor Law § 240 claims.
In <em>Guallpa</em>, plaintiff, an iron worker, was standing on a ladder while working to secure an overhead steel beam to the building structure. While plaintiff was working, another employee, operating a forklift at ground level, struck a portion of the beam plaintiff was working on. This caused the beam to shift and, unfortunately, pinned plaintiff’s arm between the beam and a nearby concrete wall, inflicting injuries. Both plaintiff and defendants cross-moved for summary judgment as to plaintiff’s Labor Law § 240 claim, and the trial court denied both motions.
On appeal, the Second Department reversed the trial court decision and granted summary judgment to defendants. The Second Department, focusing on the purpose of Labor Law § 240, noting that while the law is meant to protect workers from elevation-related risks, merely working above ground level does not automatically entitle workers to its protections. Specifically, the Second Department identified Labor Law § 240 as guarding workers against two types of risks: elevation-related (a worker falling from a height) and gravity-related (objects falling from a height onto the worker). Therefore, the Second Department concluded, because plaintiff was not injured by either a falling object or by falling from a height, he could not properly assert a claim under Labor Law § 240. Unfortunately for defendants, the Second Department then reversed the trial court’s ruling that they were entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff’s Labor Law § 241(6) claim, holding that they had failed to offer facts sufficient to refute plaintiff’s claim that the steel beam that injured him was improperly secured pursuant to a potentially applicable Industrial Code provision.
<em>Guallpa</em> serves as a reminder to all Labor Law defense practitioners to carefully scrutinize a plaintiff’s bill of particulars and deposition transcript to establish the precise mechanism of plaintiff’s injury. In a field where ladders and heights often indicate increased settlements and damages awards, be sure to establish if plaintiff is in fact entitled to assert a Labor Law § 240 claim.
Thanks to Peter Luccarelli for his contribution.
For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at dricci@wcmlaw.com.
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