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Labor Law 240: How It Can Benefit You!

An owner and contractor of a construction site in New York maybe legally responsible for injuries suffered by a construction worker. New York, in comparison to other states, imposes statutory liability on owners and contractors for a wide array of accidents occurring on a construction site. Liability is imposed irrespective of whether an owner or contractor exercised supervision or control over the manner of work being performed on the work site. Taking into account that the standard for imposing liability on owners and contractors is not limited to ordinary negligence, New York acknowledges the distinctive hazards faced by construction workers. To offer “adequate protection to workmen” engaged in these dangerous occupations, New York has enacted several laws intended to prevent accidents at the work site. These laws are sometimes referred to as the “safe place to work statutes.” The most prominent section is New York’s Labor Law § 240. This statute impose an absolute, non-delegable duty on all owners, their contractors and agents. This means that owners of the property where accidents occur are absolutely liable to the injured worker, even if their only involvement was authorizing the work. The responsibility to comply with these safety rules is not limited to whether or not they control the workers’ activities; rather it can be simply a matter of whether their ownership status on a deed or lease with respect to the property where the accident occurred.

Responsibility has been imposed even upon property owners who have given an easement, for instance, to a utility company under which the utility company enters upon the property and perform work at any time without further permission from the owner. Even owners who have leased their property to a tenant who undertakes responsibility for the property may still be statutorily liable for the tenant’s failure to provide a worker construction with appropriate safety devices, since the statue is not based upon control over the work but ownership of the property. For individuals performing construction work in New York, Labor Law § 240 levels the playing field for the injured worker and shifts the responsibility for creating a safe work environment to the owner and contractors of the construction project. Labor Law § 240 purpose is to keep the construction worker safe. New York has realized that working on a construction site can be dangerous and in some cases deadly. This special statue is expressly designed to protect construction workers from hazards brought about by gravity, for example falling from a height or something falling and striking an unsuspecting construction worker.

Contractors and owners of a construction site are required to “furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection to a person so employed.” (Labor Law § 240(1)). Simply stated, the law protects you from gravity related accidents. (i.e. falling from a height or something falling from above.)

The New York Court of Appeals has confirmed that matters of construction site safety is the responsibility of the owner and general contractor as opposed to a construction worker who is “scarcely in a position to protect [himself] from [an] accident.” In the same context the Court explained “Workmen…who ply their livelihoods on ladders and scaffolds, are scarcely in a position to protect themselves from [an] accident. They usually have no choice but to work with the equipment at hand, though danger looms large. The legislature recognized this and, to guard against the known hazards of the occupation, required the employer to safeguard the workers from injury caused by faulty or inadequate equipment.” Koenig v. Patrick Constr. Co., 298 NY 313, 316-317(1948). The only available exception to this enforcement of this statue is the “sole proximate cause” defense. However, (i.e. the worker’s conduct was the sole reason for the happening of the accident) if the contractor or owner failed in any way to provide safety device, construction worker will not be held accountable, since the worker will not be deemed the “sole” reason for the accident. There are many scenarios that implicate the protections of Labor Law § 240, for example, a worker could be on a scaffold or a leaning on a ladder or an “A” frame ladder that tips over because it is not stable; or a bucket being hoisted in the air could become unclipped and fall on a worker below; or a ladder that is provided is of inadequate height forcing the worker to improvise, or the worker is required to stand on an unstable wooden or metal beam that breaks; or the flooring underneath the worker gives way causing the worker to fall from an elevated height. As you can see there are many scenarios which trigger the protections of Labor Law § 240.

More often than not the target defendants– the construction contractor and owner–admittedly fail to provide any safety devices, instead mistakenly relying on the contractual obligation of a sub-contractor to fulfill this statutory mandate. Specifically, the failure to provide any safety device at all constitutes a direct violation of Labor Law § 240. This law applies to all workers, irrespective of any union, affiliation or U.S. residency. This statute applies to both union and non-union job sites. Labor Law § 240 is designed to protect those construction workers who have been injured as a result of a gravity related accident. The special protections available to the injured construction workers are separate from the compensation received under to New York’s workers compensation law (s). If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a construction accident give the attorneys at Dupée & Monroe, P.C a call.

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