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Providing Safety Devices May Not Protect Owners Against Labor Law Liability

November 23, 2010

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In <i>Ramirez v. Shoats, et. al.</i>, the plaintiff was working inside a newly constructed home. He descended a recently constructed staircase, reached the landing, and stepped onto a sheet of metal covering the landing. The sheet shifted and the plaintiff fell through the floor and into the basement.
Defendant-owner moved for summary judgment, arguing that he did not violate Labor Law 240 or 241 because a ladder was available to the plaintiff as an alternative means of descent. The plaintiff held that no such ladder was provided. The 1st Department affirmed the lower court’s decision that denied the defendant’s summary judgment motion, finding issues of fact regarding whether the plaintiff was the sole proximate cause of his injuries.
More importantly, the 1st Department articulated its new approach toward Labor Law cases. The Court stated that it would be guided by a recent Court of Appeals decision, which called for a broader reading of the Labor Law. Accordingly, the 1st Department opined that even if the plaintiff had the choice of using a ladder instead of the staircase, that did not preclude the plaintiff from recovering against the owner, especially when that alternative route may have seemed more dangerous than the stairs utilized by the plaintiff.
Thanks to Georgia G. Stagias for her contribution to this post.
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