Articles Posted in Construction Accidents

New York construction law places extensive obligations on property owners and general contractors to provide a safe work environment. The New York Labor Law (NYLL) allows workers and others to file civil suits for damages if violations of safety requirements cause injury. These claims can be made in addition to claims under the common law of negligence. Section 241(6) of the NYLL codifies the set of safety regulations known as the Industrial Code. Recent court decisions from New York Appellate Courts demonstrate how workers in New York State can assert claims for injuries caused by violations of § 241(6).

Section 241(6) of the NYLL applies to all sites where “construction, excavation or demolition work” is ongoing. It requires any site to be “constructed,…operated and conducted” in a way that “provide[s] reasonable and adequate protection and safety” to anyone “lawfully frequenting” the site. It authorizes the New York Department of Labor to promulgate rules to allow effective enforcement. The Industrial Code, found in Title 12, Chapter I, Subchapter A of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (NYCRR), is the result of this authorization. It includes regulations regarding construction and demolition operations, as well as building codes, and rules for equipment like elevators and boilers.

The New York Appellate Division, Second Department described § 241(6) as a “nondelegable duty of reasonable care upon owners and contractors.” Lopez v. New York City Dept. of Envtl. Protection, 123 A.D.3d 982, 983 (2014). Under the common law theory of negligence, a defendant is liable for damages when they breach of a duty of care owed to the plaintiff, and that breach causes the plaintiff injury. Section 241(6) essentially states that property owners and general contractors owe a duty of care to construction workers to abide by the Industrial Code.
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New York law offers numerous protections for workers who suffer injuries while performing dangerous work. Construction workers routinely find themselves in unequal bargaining positions with contractors and property owners. If they demand better safety equipment, and safer conditions in general, they might find that speaking out puts their jobs at risk. Workers who are injured because of poor safety conditions might encounter difficulty establishing liability and recovering damages. Section 240 of the New York Labor Law, commonly known as the “Scaffold Law,” establishes liability for contractors and others who control the work on construction sites. Recent New York court decisions have examined various circumstances that support relief under the Scaffold Law.

Under the Scaffold Law, contractors and property owners are responsible for providing scaffolding and other equipment that gives “proper protection” to construction workers employed on the site. The law makes an exception for residential property owners who “contract for but do not direct or control the work.” In 1993, the New York Court of Appeals held in Ross v. Curtis-Palmer Hydro-Electric Co. that “the duty imposed by Labor Law § 240(1) is nondelegable.” The court further held that an owner or contractor is liable for damages caused by a breach of the Scaffold Law “regardless of whether it has actually exercised supervision or control over the work.”

The purpose of the Scaffold Law is, in one sense, to protect construction workers against “gravity-related risks,” as the Supreme Court in Manhattan noted earlier this year in Ryerson v. 580 Park Ave. The court held that the Scaffold Law did not apply because the plaintiff’s injury was the result of tripping and falling, not “falling from a height or being struck by a falling object.” In another Manhattan case, Terranova v. ERY Tenant, the court held that a plaintiff’s injury was covered by the Scaffold law even though it did not directly involve a falling object. The injury occurred after a beam began to swing during hoisting. The plaintiff “slipped while trying to get out of the beam’s path.” The court held that the Scaffold Law applied because “the process of lifting the beam created an elevation-related risk” to the plaintiff and other workers.
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A Manhattan-based masonry contractor was fined $74,500 after a construction employee fell 80 feet from a scaffold in Brooklyn. The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) cited Navillus Contracting Tile, Inc. for one repeat and six serious violations of safety standards in connection with a September 28, 2011 incident where a worker fell from the top of a 118 foot scaffold. The worker landed approximately 80 feet below the top of the scaffold on another construction level.

According to OSHA’s Manhattan Area Office, the masonry company failed to ensure the scaffold had guard rails in place, and the scaffold was not fully planked. Additionally, at the time of the incident an access platform was reportedly not secured and workers were not properly tied off to ensure their safety. Employees also allegedly climbed up and down the scaffolding frame in order to reach building work areas. Due to the conditions at the Brooklyn work site, OSHA proposed a fine of $36,000 for six serious violations. A serious violation is issued when an employer knew or should have known there was a high probability a safety hazard would result in a serious physical injury or death.

Navillus Contracting Tile, Inc. also received a repeat violation with a proposed fine of $38,500 for failing to ensure the scaffolding had guard rails in place. A repeat violation is issued by OSHA where an employer was cited for a substantially similar violation of a rule, regulation, standard, or order within the previous five years. The masonry company was cited for a guard rail hazard at another work site in September 2008.

Luckily, the worker who fell was not killed. According to OSHA’s Area Director for Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens, effective scaffolding maintenance rather than luck must be relied upon to protect construction site employees. Due to the nature of building sites, construction workers are faced with hazardous working conditions every day. Construction accidents tragically hurt or kill thousands of people each year. Although workplace injuries are normally subject to state workers’ compensation laws, a third party may be legally responsible for failing to implement proper and adequate safety measures. For example, construction contractors have a duty to inform workers about potential workplace dangers and take proper safety precautions. If you or a family member was hurt in a scaffolding accident or injured by another construction site hazard, contact a knowledgeable construction accident lawyer to learn more about your rights and options for financial recovery.

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