Failure to Comply with Labor Law
Labor Law § 240(1) and its Application
Labor Law § 240(1) expressly provides, in pertinent part, as follows:
All contractors and owners and their agents… in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure shall 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 (emphasis added).
Labor Law § 240(1) imposes upon owners and contractors a non-delegable duty to provide proper and adequate safety devices to afford proper protection to those working on a building or structure subject to elevation-related hazards. Importantly, the contractor, owner or their agent is liable for a violation of Labor Law §240(1) regardless of whether it exercises supervision or control over the work. Correia v. Professional Data Mgt., 259 A.D.2d 60, 693 N.Y.S.2d 596 (1st Dept, 1999); Rocovich v. Consolidated Edison Company, 78 N.Y.2d 509, 577 N.Y.S.2d 219 (Court of Appeals, 1991). Any breach of the statute will impose absolute liability upon the owner and general contractor (emphasis added). Moreover, negligence of the injured worker is of no consequence against a Labor Law § 240(1) claim. Bland v. Manocherian, 66 N.Y.2d 452, 497 N.Y.S.2d 880 (Court of Appeals, 1985) and Zimmer v. Chemung County Perf. Arts, 65 N.Y.2d 513; 493 N.Y.S.2d 102 (Court of Appeals, 1985)
It is also well established that Labor Law § 240(1) is directed at elevation-related hazards and “those related to the effects of gravity where protective devices are called for either because of a difference between the elevation level of the required work and a lower level or a difference between the elevation level where the worker is positioned and the higher level of the materials or load being hoisted or secured.” Rocovich v. Consolidated Edison Company, supra.
Labor Law § 240(1) is to be construed as liberally as may be for the accomplishment of the purpose for which it was thus framed. Rocovich v. Consolidated Edison Company, supra. The Court of Appeals has also more recently noted that “the lawmakers fashioned this pioneer litigation ‘to give proper protection to the worker.’ Those words are at the heart of the statute and have endured through every amendment.” Blake v. Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City, Inc., 1 N.Y.3d 280, 771 N.Y.S.2d 484 (Court of Appeals, 2003)
Although it is true that a plaintiff must establish both that a violation of Labor Law § 240(1) occurred and that such violation contributed, at least in part, to the happening of the accident, Blake v. Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City, Inc., supra, it is equally true that, once these are shown, the statute imposes strict liability irrespective of any questions of negligence by plaintiff himself, Zimmer v. Chemung County Perf. Arts, supra. The absolute liability aspect of the statute has not changed in recent years where a violation which is causally related is shown.
The Failure to Provide Adequate Safety Devices Is a Violation of § 240(1)
As recognized by in Runner v. New York Stock Exchange, Inc., 13 N.Y.3d 599, 895 N.Y.S.2d 279 (2009), Labor Law § 240(1) has “been construed to be less wide than its text would indicate.” Citing its decision in Ross v. Curtis-Palmer Hydro-Elec. Co., 81 N.Y.2d 494, 601 N.Y.S.2d 49 (1993), this Court went on in Runner v. New York Stock Exchange, Inc, supra, to emphasize that the reach of the statute is not just limited to the more common scenarios of a worker falling from a height or being struck by a falling object, but rather is meant to apply to:
"…those types of accidents in which the scaffold, hoist, stay, ladder or other protective device proved inadequate to shield the injured worker from harm directly flowing from the application of the force of gravity to an object or person.” Id, 13 N.Y.3d at 604."
The proper result can be simply stated. Where a worker, like JOHNSON, must work in the vicinity of a drop off or a change in elevation (here there was an elevation of two (2) feet from the surface of the dummy deck down to the exposed q-decking) and there is no proof that any device was provided to prevent him from either falling or to minimize the height differential, such as with the use of a plywood ramp and/or manmade steps, it must be fairly concluded that the worker was exposed to a gravity related risk that Labor Law § 240(1) is intended to cover. In the wake of Runner v. New York Stock Exchange, Inc, supra, it cannot be fairly stated that the risk is not protected against simply because the worker fell down from floor level.
Never has Labor Law § 240(1) been interpreted to mean that the worker must fall from an artificially created height down to the ground for it to be applicable. Certainly, a height related risk created by causing a worker to be next to a lower level, created by a change in elevation, is just as dangerous and just as well a risk that can be protected against by a Labor Law § 240(1) device.