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NY Labor Law - Strict Liability - Strict Interpretation

February 17, 2017

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New York Labor Law actions involve issues of strict liability -- not negligence, a significant distinction. This distinction figured heavily in the court decision of <a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Bridgemohan-v.-Cornell-Group-Inc..pdf">Bridgemohan v. Cornell Group, Inc.</a> The case arose out of a fall from an unsecured ladder that was not equipped with rubber feet.  The plaintiff had been working at a multi-family home patching cracks in the wall of a garage.  The ladder slipped as he ascended it causing him to fall onto concrete ground.
The plaintiff moved for summary judgment under Labor Law §240(1), and the defendants made two arguments in opposition. First, defendants argued that plaintiff was the sole proximate cause of his injuries.  Second, defendants argued that plaintiff was not a protected class under the statute since he had not been directly hired by them to do the work.
As to the first argument, there was speculative testimony from the defendant property owner that the plaintiff had attempted to do a jump turn while on the ladder, which caused the fall.  The judges looked dubiously upon this testimony given the position and vantage point of the witness.  Ultimately, this testimony proved unavailing in any event.  Even assuming plaintiff was negligent in doing a jump turn, this would not absolve the defendants from strict liability resulting from the failure to provide proper equipment, a statutory protection for the work he was doing.  Elicited testimony which attempts to place fault on the plaintiff is irrelevant if a violation of a statute in any way caused the accident.
Any negligence on his part would be insufficient to constitute an unforeseeable or extraordinary act that would be a superseding cause of the accident.
The court likewise was not persuaded that plaintiff was a volunteer and not a worker. While the defendants had in fact hired another person to do the job, that person had, in turn, hired the plaintiff to assist. The defendants paid the person they hired who paid the plaintiff.  The plaintiff testified that he expected to be paid, and the contractor who asked plaintiff to assist with the work testified that he had always planned to, and did pay plaintiff.  Thus, plaintiff was part of the protected class of workers.
Thanks to Christopher Goia for his contribution.
For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at <a href="mailto:dricci@wcmlaw.com"><u>dricci@wcmlaw.com</u></a>

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