History of Labor Law 240
Jan 21, 2020 | 9114 views | 0 0 comments | 629 629 recommendations | email to a friend | print

In 1885, recognizing the unique dangers that gravity-related injuries pose to construction workers, the New York State Legislature passed a new law called Labor Law §240.  The law states that construction site owners, contractors, and their agents are strictly liable for and must protect workers from height-related injuries by providing proper safety equipment.  This is true even if they did not control the means and methods of the work being performed.  No other state has a similar law, which means that construction workers in New York have a greater protection under the law than any other construction workers in the United States. 

Falls from improper or inadequate safety devices are among the most common and most dangerous types of construction accidents.

In a recent case, an electrician was injured while working on the 27th floor of a building in Tribeca. The building was undergoing renovation at the time.  The building’s owners hired a general contractor for the renovation work which in turn hired the electrician’s employer to perform the electrical and fire alarm work at the project.  On the day of her accident, the electrician was performing work on wires in the ceiling which required the use of a six-foot, A-frame ladder.  Specifically, she was tasked with splicing wires in the ceiling.  She had to periodically move the ladder as her work progressed and she worked on different parts of the ceiling.

The wires she was accessing were in the junction box which was above the ceiling grid.  Accordingly, the electrician’s head was above the ceiling grid while she was performing this work.  As she was working, she felt the ladder “come out” from underneath her.  She immediately, grabbed onto a black pipe in the ceiling.  As she hung there “for what seemed like forever,” she screamed out for help.  Finally, her co-workers came over to help bring her down.

Her co-worker testified that he was in the same room as the electrician at the time of her accident.  While he did not see her accident, he heard her scream and ran over to see her hanging from the pipe.  He helped her down but noted that the ladder she was using had not fallen over and was still standing up.

As a result of the accident, she sustained serious injuries to her right shoulder that prevented her from working as a union electrician.  She sued the owner and general contractor under Labor Law § 240(1).  Following discovery, she asked the judge for assessment of liability for this accident against the owner and general contractor (the defendants) on her Labor Law § 240(1) claim.  The Court held it was clear that the electrician was engaged in protected construction work at the time of her accident.  It was also clear that the electrician was working at a height when she was atop the A-frame ladder.  

The electrician argued that her fall from an unsecured ladder established a clear violation of Labor Law § 240(1).  The defendants argued that because the ladder did not fall to the floor, it was ambiguous as to how her accident happened.  Specifically, the defendants referenced the electrician’s testimony in which she said she did not know which direction the ladder shifted as evidence that plaintiff was not entitled to summary judgment.

The Court disagreed with the defendants’ argument.  It found that the direction the ladder shifted was immaterial.  All that mattered was the ladder shifted, causing the electrician to lose her balance, and need to grab the pipe to prevent her fall to the ground. The judge granted the electrician’s motion for summary judgment and remanded the case for a trial with jury on damages only.

Simply put, the ladder was not a proper safety device for the job the electrician was doing.  It should go without saying that a ladder that moves while a worker is atop it is inherently dangerous to the worker.  The ladder could have been held by another worker, tied off, or otherwise secured to prevent it from moving while in use.  The sad truth is that general contractors and construction companies often want the job done as quickly as possible and a worker’s safety is an afterthought.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of an accident, please reach out to us for a free legal consultation by calling us 24/7 at 212– 514–5100, emailing me at swp@plattalaw.com, or visiting our law firm in lower Manhattan (42 Broadway, Suite 1927). You can also ask us questions through the 24-hour chat box on our website (www.plattalaw.com). We offer free consultations for all potential personal injury cases.


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