A construction worker was injured when he fell from a wobbling, unsecured ladder during a gut renovation of an apartment in Manhattan. The worker’s employer had been hired to perform construction and renovation in five apartments in the building. The worker filed a lawsuit against the owner of the building pursuant to the law governing construction accidents in New York.
The worker claimed in the lawsuit that the building owner failed to provide him with proper safety devices and allowed him to use a shaky ladder that was not secured or held by a co-worker. The injured worker testified during his deposition that he was performing carpentry work at the time of this accident.
On the day of the accident, the worker’s supervisor told him that double sheetrock needed to be placed from the height of the ceiling in the apartment to the top, for fireproofing reasons. The dropped ceiling was 10 feet above the floor and the height where the sheetrock was placed was 11 to 12 feet above the floor. In order to install the sheetrock, the worker used a 6-foot A-frame aluminum ladder provided by his employer. He set it up on the floor and moved it several times during his work. The worker said that there were no other ladders at the site, but conceded that he saw workers from other companies using different ladders.
The ladder had wobbled when the worker had used it previously, but he never complained to his supervisor about the ladder.
The construction worker who was less than six feet tall and had to stand on the first rung below the top of the ladder to install the double sheetrock. At the time of the accident, the worker had to remove a piece of metal, fastened by a screw. While he was removing the screw, the ladder moved to the side causing the worker to fall in the opposite direction. Both the worker and the ladder fell to the ground. His co-worker was in the same room as the injured worker at the time of his accident.
The injured worker asked the judge to asses automatic liability against the building owner, as allowed by law. Labor Law § 240(1) protects workers from gravity-related risks such as falling from a height or being struck by a falling object when they are engaged in specific construction activities. The statute states that construction site owners and general contractors are held strictly liable for violations of Labor Law § 240(1) regardless of whether they control the work being performed.
The worker argued that he was entitled to this relief, since he was engaged in an activity covered under the statute at the time of his accident and that the property owner failed to provide him with proper safety devices to protect him while he worked at a height.
The building owner opposed his request, arguing that there was a question of whether the worker was the sole proximate cause of his accident (meaning his actions alone were the cause of the accident). The building owner argued that the worker misused the ladder by standing on the rung below the top of the ladder and that a jury could determine that this misuse was the reason for the accident. They also argued that the worker could have had his co-worker, who was in the same room as him, hold the ladder while he was performing his work.
Essentially, the building owner was arguing that the worker was negligent, and that his negligence relieves it of its liability for his accident. However, a worker’s comparative negligence is not a defense to a cause of action under Labor Law § 240(1). Only where the worker’s own conduct is the sole proximate cause of the accident is recovery under Labor Law § 240(1) unavailable.
The court found that the building owner was at fault for causing this accident and assessed automatic liability against this entity. The fact that the ladder moved while the worker was a top established that it was not a proper safety device for the work that the injured worker was performing at the time of the accident. It is sufficient for purposes of liability under Labor Law § 240(1) to show that adequate safety devices to prevent a ladder from slipping or to prevent a plaintiff from falling were absent.
Here, there was no evidence that the worker was using the ladder improperly and even if there were, at most they would raise an issue of fact regarding his comparative negligence which is not a defense to a claim under Labor Law § 240(1). Accordingly, the worker was granted summary judgment and his case was remanded for a trial on the issue of damages only.
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