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New York Court Of Appeals Expands Reach Of Scaffold Law

December 21, 2009

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Section 240 of the New York Labor Law, commonly known as the “scaffold law,” is well known to apply strict liability to injuries relating to gravity related accidents. Previously, liability was imposed when a worker fell from a height, or when a falling object struck a worker.
The New York Court of Appeals recently held liability under Labor Law 240 was no so limited. In Runner v. New York Stock Exchange, a worker was moving an 800-pound reel of wire down 4 stairs. He tied one end of a rope to the reel, and looped the other end around a horizontal bar placed against a doorframe. The worker held onto the loose end of the rope, acting as a counter weight to control the reel’s decent. While the reel was moving down the stairs, the worker was pulled towards the horizontal bar and injured his hands. The jury found that the accident was not gravity related, but the trial judge granted a directed verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Defendants appealed.
The New York Court of Appeals unanimously held that the single decisive issue was whether plaintiff’s injuries were the result of the failure to provide adequate protection against a risk arising from a “physically significant elevation differential.” The question to ask is whether the harm flows directly from the application of the force of gravity to the object. If the answer is yes, there is strict liability under Labor Law 240. There is no requirement that the worker must fall or be hit by a falling object.
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