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Owner Escapes Labor Law Liability By Not Supervising Project (NY)

February 28, 2020

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In <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Boody-v-El-Sol-Contr.pdf">Boody v El Sol Contr</a>. the Appellate Division addressed the standard a defendant needs to establish to prevail on summary judgment on a Labor Law § 200 claim.

The plaintiff was employed as a construction worker for nonparty Caribe Construction Co., a subcontractor hired by the general contractor El Sol Contracting and Construction Corporation, to install temporary scaffolding for a repair project on a bridge in Queens.  In order to complete its work, Caribe hired North East Marine, Inc. to provide tugboats and work barges, to transport Caribe's employees, supplies, and equipment around the work site. The plaintiff allegedly was injured while he was attempting to cross between two barges positioned on either side of a pier supporting the bridge. The plaintiff alleged that as he was walking, one of the mooring lines from the tug-barge combination tightened and caught his leg, pinning it against the pillar next to which he was walking.

Sol unsuccessfully moved for summary judgment dismissing the claims against it.

On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed the ruling and awarded summary judgment to El Sol.  The Appellate Division held that Labor Law § 200(1) is a codification of the common-law duty of an owner or general contractor to provide workers with a safe place to work.  Cases involving Labor Law § 200 fall into two broad categories: namely, those where workers are injured as a result of dangerous or defective premises conditions at a work site, and those involving the manner in which the work is performed.  Where a claim arises out of alleged defects or dangers arising from a subcontractor's methods or materials, recovery against the owner or general contractor cannot be had unless it is shown that the party to be charged exercised some supervisory control over the operation.

Expanding on the requirement of supervisory control under the “means and methods” context, the Court held that "a defendant has the authority to supervise or control the work for purposes of Labor Law § 200 when that defendant bears the responsibility for the manner in which the work is performed."  In contrast, “mere general supervisory authority at a work site for the purpose of overseeing the progress of the work and inspecting the work product is insufficient to impose liability under Labor Law § 200.”

Using this standard, El Sol, established that it did not exercise supervision or control over the performance of the work giving rise to the accident.

Thanks to George Parpas for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:gcoats@wcmlaw.com">Georgia Coats</a> with any questions.

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