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NY: Providing Defective Equipment Does Not Constitute Control of Work

November 18, 2011

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Although New York Labor Law imposes absolute liability upon owners and contractors on proof that a violation of the statute was a proximate cause of the injury sustained, there is a critical exception to the rule. Specifically, owners of one- and two-family dwellings who contract for, but do not direct or control the work, are exempt from Labor Law §§ 240(1) and 241(6).  The exception was enacted to protect the small building or unit owner that generally lacks business sophistication and would not know or anticipate the need to take such measures to cover them against such liability.
In <em>Galinat v. Smith, et al.</em>, 2011 N.Y. Slip Op 51968, New York County Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische relied on this exception to shield unit owners from liability where plaintiff fell while using an allegedly defective ladder provided to her by the unit owners.  Sam Hines, who owned the unit with his wife, hired Smith to perform home decorating activities at the premises and furnished Smith with some of the materials to be used in the redecoration, including paint.  After Hines complained that the project was taking too long, Smith hired two painters, including the plaintiff to complete the work.  Hines met with plaintiff only once before the accident, as he gave her a tour of the apartment, told plaintiff she could use the ladder in the utility closet.  Later that evening, he received word that plaintiff had fallen off the ladder and sustained injuries.
In deciding the Hineses’ motion for summary judgment, the Court held that the Hineses did not supervise or control the work, and that they had no actual; or constructive notice that the ladder was defective or that it was being improperly used.  Simply providing the ladder to plaintiff, without any further instruction or supervisory role, did not constitute control of her work.  Therefore, pursuant to the exception the Hineses could not be held liable for Labor Law violations.
If you have any questions about this post, please email paul at <a href=""></a>  Special thanks to Chris O’Leary for his contribution
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