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Routine Dismissal for "Routine Maintenance" Under Labor Law (NY)

May 2, 2019

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In <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Dahlia-v.-SK-Distrib.pdf">Dahlia v. SK Distrib</a>, the Appellate Division, Second Department reversed a lower court ruling that denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s claims under Labor Law §240 (1).  Plaintiff’s employer, non-party AMX Cooling and Heating, LLC, was hired to service a heating unit for defendant.  Plaintiff, an HVAC service technician, attempted to reach the ceiling heating unit by standing on a packet of shingles atop the forks of a forklift.  Defendant’s employee allegedly raised the forklift while plaintiff stood on the shingles.  While examining the heating unit, plaintiff slipped off the shingles, sustaining injuries.

Plaintiff commenced an action against S&amp;K and another defendant alleging violations of Labor Law §§ 200, 240 (1), and 241 as well as common law negligence.  Defendant S&amp;K moved for summary judgment dismissing the Labor Law §240(1) claim and the lower court denied the motion.  S&amp;K appealed and the Second Department reversed finding that plaintiff was not engaged in an activity covered under Labor Law §240 (1).

To prevail on a cause of action under Labor Law §240(1), a plaintiff must establish that he or she was injured during the erection, demolition, repair, alteration, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure.  Plaintiff asserted that he was covered under the repair prong of Labor Law §240(1) while defendant asserted the repair was actually routine maintenance.  In order to distinguish between the two activities, the courts look at whether the work involves replacing components due to course of normal wear and tear.  Based on the deposition testimony that a belt was missing from the heating unit and belts generally should be replaced approximately once per year, the court found plaintiff’s activities to be routine maintenance and outside the scope of Labor Law §240 (1).

Labor Law cases are very fact specific, but the first prong of the test is that plaintiff must be performing an enumerated, covered activity.  The nuances between repair and routine maintenance determine the difference between summary judgment or strict liability for a defendant.  Thanks to Mehreen Hayat for her contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:bgibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.

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