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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