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Labor Law 240 Applied to Sprinkler Maintenance Contract Where Modifications to System Involved “Significant Physical Change"

April 19, 2017

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Courts keep on expanding the reach of Labor Law 240’s applicability.  Even the sacred “routine inspection and maintenance” work is now expanding.
In <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/pdfs/2017/2017_30535.pdf"><em>Concepcion v. 333 Seventh, LLC</em></a>, the building hired plaintiff’s employer to “routinely conduct inspections and maintain the building’s sprinkler system.” On May 1, 2015, plaintiff and his helper were at the building to modify the sprinkler to make it code compliant.  The work was performed pursuant to the maintenance contract.  There was no construction or renovation performed in connection with this work. The building’s superintendent directed plaintiff to the fourth floor and provided a 6-foot A-frame ladder. Mike, Plaintiff’s helper held the ladder while plaintiff worked. After the helper left to retrieve a piece of pipe, the plaintiff felt the legs of the ladder move forward causing him to lose balance and fall to the floor.
Defendants moved summary judgment on several grounds, including that Labor Law §240(1) was inapplicable since plaintiff was performing routine maintenance, while Labor Law §240(1) affords protection to workers engaged “in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure.”
The court found that since plaintiff’s intended work that day included installing wheel assemblies and water flow switches, relocating drain lines and removing old drain lines there was a significant physical change to the building’s sprinkler system, more than routine maintenance. Defendants argued that the plaintiff was performing routine maintenance as required by the service estimate from 2013. The Court found this insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact since the estimate from May 2013 did not specifically mention the work plaintiff was performing on the date of the accident.
This was a lower court decision.  It remains to be seen whether it holds up on appeal.  The case, however, is venued in the First Department, which is notorious for expanding Labor Law 240 application.
Thanks to Hillary Gomez for her contribution to this post.
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