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New York High Court Holds “Ordinary Vehicle Repair” Not Covered Under Labor Law

January 5, 2024

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Plaintiff, a diesel technician, was working beneath defendant’s lifted trailer on broken air brakes when the trailer collapsed on him, causing grievous personal injuries.  The question presented to the New York Court of Appeals in Stoneham et al v. Barsuk, Inc. et al, was whether “plaintiff was engaged in an activity protected by Labor Law §240(1).”  2023 NY Slip Op 06467 (2023).  The Court held that the legislature did not intend Labor Law §240(1) to encompass “ordinary vehicle repair” and that the lower courts correctly dismissed the §240(1) claims.

Plaintiff used a front loader to lift the trailer five and a half feet and began working to install the new air brake equipment.  As Plaintiff was installing this equipment, the trailer fell on him, pinning him to the ground.  Plaintiff commenced his action alleging a §240(1) claim among other claims, then moved for summary judgment. Defendant cross-moved.  The trial court denied plaintiff’s motion and granted defendant’s.  The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that §240(1) did not contemplate “the vehicle repair work at issue here” because it was not “a protected activity within the meaning of” §240(1).  Id.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that §240(1) does not apply simply because a plaintiff’s injury results from “an elevation differential.”  Id. The Court further held that in considering a “holistic view of the statute, ordinary vehicle repair” would extend the statute far beyond the purpose for which it was intended.  Id.  The Court discussed that if it were to hold Defendant liable in this instance, car owners would be “absolutely liable for car-related injuries that occurred when a mechanic was working on their car” which was not intended by the legislature, despite Plaintiff’s severe injuries.  Id.

Stoneham et al v. Barsuk - NYCA
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