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Labor Law 240(1) Does Not Apply To Scaffold Accident Where Fall Was Caused by Separate Hazard (NY)

January 27, 2023

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New York Labor Law section 240, the so called “Scaffold Law”, imposes strict liability on property owners and contractors where a construction worker sustains an elevation-related injury. However, section 240 does not apply to all worksite hazards and courts will examine the specific facts to determine if the section will apply.

For example, in<em> <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Krarunzhiy-v.-91-Cent.-Park-W.-Owners-Corp..pdf">Krarunzhiy v. 91 Cent. Park W. Owners Corp.</a>, </em>the Appellate Division, Second Department addressed the issue of whether a defendant owner violated Labor Law 240(1) when plaintiff fell while working in the defendant’s building. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was working as a mason and painter, and fell over a rug as he descended a temporary staircase from an upper to a lower scaffold. The trial court awarded summary judgment to the defendant.

The Second Department affirmed, holding that Section 240(1) did not impose liability under the circumstances. The Court observed that "[T]he extraordinary protections of Labor Law § 240(1) extend only to a narrow class of special hazards and do 'not encompass <em>any and all </em>perils that may be connected in some tangential way with the effects of gravity.'"  The Court added that the “core objective of the statute in requiring protective devices for those working at heights is to allow them to complete their work safely and prevent them from falling. Where an injury results from a separate hazard wholly unrelated to the risk which brought about the need for the safety device in the first instance, no section 240(1) liability exists."

Give these principles, the Court held that the owner established that plaintiff’s injury was unrelated to the need for a safety device, and that there was no indication that the scaffold stairs did not allow him to “safely complete his work at a height.” The deficiency with the device “did not interfere with or increase the danger of injury in the performance of his elevation-related task” and therefore plaintiff’s Labor Law 240(1) claim against the owner was dismissed.

This decision serves as a reminder that not all elevation-related falls on a construction site will trigger section 240 liability. When defending a Labor Law 240(1) claim, defendants should investigate if a plaintiff’s fall was from a hazard that is unrelated to the plaintiff’s risk.

Thank you to Corey Morgenstern for his contribution to this post. Should you have any questions, please contact <a href="agibbs@wcmlaw.com">Andrew Gibbs</a>.

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