The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department reversed a trial court order that denied a construction worker plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment regarding a Labor Law 240 (1) claim involving a falling brick.
The plaintiff was a construction worker. The defendants were two construction companies working together on a construction project. During a construction project that involved brick work, the plaintiff was on the ground level on the north side, cleaning debris. Other workers were in the building on upper level floors doing masonry work. The building had safety nets installed on the south, east, and west sides of the building but not the north side. While looking at the ground and cleaning, the plaintiff was struck in the head by a brick that was dropped from the north side by one of the masonry workers. The plaintiff was injured.
The plaintiff brought a negligence lawsuit under Labor Law 240 (1) and filed a motion for partial summary judgment. In his motion, he alleged that he had established a prima facie case of negligence under Labor Law 240 (1) and was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. This meant that the plaintiff was arguing that it was undisputed that the construction companies were liable.
A falling brick is exactly the kind of danger contemplated by Labor Law 240. Labor Law 240 is known as the Scaffold Act because it requires construction companies to protect their employees from the inherent risks of working at elevated heights by providing safety equipment such as harnesses, pulleys, ropes, irons, scaffolding, and ladders. If a construction company fails to provide safety equipment at elevated heights or has defective safety equipment, the construction company has violated the statute.
Here, the brick fell from several stories above when it was dropped by a masonry worker. Per Labor Law 240 (1), safety nets should have been installed on the north side of the building to catch falling workers and falling debris. The construction company had installed the nets on every side of the building except for this one, so the company appeared to acknowledge the need for the safety nets. The lack of a safety net was the sole reason for the plaintiff’s head injury.
The defendants, however, argued that the plaintiff contributed to his injury with his own negligence. This is known as comparative negligence. The defendants argued that the plaintiff had been told not to cross a barricade that was constructed on the ground floor that would have supposedly kept him away from the area he was standing in when he was struck in the head. In addition, the plaintiff was allegedly also told not to stand under any scaffolding that the masonry workers were on, which he ignored.
However, comparative negligence is not a defense to a Labor Law 240 (1) violation. While comparative negligence is commonly alleged by defendants in other civil cases such as car accident cases, the courts will not consider it in a Labor Law 240 (1) case. This is to avoid construction companies from shirking their duty to protect their workers.
In addition, instructing a worker not to go somewhere or not to do something unsafe is not the safety protection that is required under Labor Law 240 (1). The law requires actual safety equipment.
Because the plaintiff established a prima facie case of negligence through the Labor Law 240 (1) violation and because the defendants’ only response was that of the plaintiff’s comparative negligence, the First Department granted the plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judge. The First Department therefore held the defendants liable for violating Labor Law 240 (1). The defendants can no longer dispute their level of responsibility or whether they were in fact negligent unless they decide to take the case to the NY Court of Appeals (the highest court in the state).
If you or a loved one was injured in a construction accident while working at a construction site, you have legal options. Contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC to discuss your potential claims today.
Hill v. Acies Group, LLC, 122 AD3d 428 (1st Dept., Nov. 6, 2014).