What is New York’s Scaffold Law?
Labor Law 240(1), more commonly known as New York’s Scaffold Law, imposes a nondelegable duty upon owners and general contractors, and their agents, to provide safety devices necessary to protect workers from the risks inherent in elevated work sites. Munzon v. Victor at Fifth, LLC, 161 A.D.3d 1183, 2018 NY Slip Op 03852, *2 (2d Dep’t 2018). The statue imposes strict liability on the defendant; however, the plaintiff has the burden of proving a two-prong test to establish liability. Cahill v. Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Auth., 4 N.Y.3d 35 (2004). First, the plaintiff has the burden of proof to show that the statute was violated. Id. Second, the plaintiff must prove that the violation was a proximate cause of his injury. Id.
Two recent New York cases affirmed the requirements for plaintiffs to meet their prima facie burdens. In Munzon v. Victor at Fifth, LLC, the Appellate Division, Second Department reaffirmed the lower court’s decision to grant the plaintiff’s summary judgment motion on the issue of liability on the Labor Law § 240(1) cause of action. Munzon, LLC, NY Slip Op 03852 at *1. In this case, the plaintiff and his coworker were moving a metal beam, which hit the wooden beam the plaintiff was standing on. Id. at *4. The plaintiff was on the partially demolished fourth floor and fell to the third floor. Id. The court found that the plaintiff was not provided with adequate safety equipment to prevent him from falling. Id. Here, the plaintiff established that there was a violation of the statute by proving: (1) he was working on an elevated work site; (2) he was not provided safety equipment to prevent the fall and; (3) that the failure to provide the necessary safety device was a proximate cause of his accident. Id.
In contrast, the court in Jackson v. Hunter Roberts Constr. Group, LLC held that defendants were entitled to dismissal of the Labor Law 240(1) claim. Jackson v. Hunter Roberts Constr. Grp., LLC, 139 A.D.3d 429, NY Slip Op 03805, *1 (1st Dep’t 2018). Here, the plaintiff claimed that he and a coworker were carrying a water main pipe when he lost his balance upon stepping on a makeshift ramp. Id. at *2. The weight of the pipe caused them to fall, and in an attempt to push the pipe off of himself, the pipe struck another object, retracted back, and hit him in the leg. Id. The court determined based off of the plaintiff’s testimony that he was not exposed to the type of elevation-related hazard contemplated by the statute. Id. The ramp’s height differential of 6 to 10 inches did not constitute a physically significant elevation differential covered by the statute. Id. The plaintiff was not able to establish that the statue was violated, therefore, the court rejected his cause of action.
These two cases illustrate that the mere fact that a worker was injured does not preclude a judgment in favor of the defendant. The Scaffold Law may impose strict liability on defendants, however, this does not mean that a defendant will automatically be held liable. A plaintiff must still meet their prima facie burden to be entitled to relief. Although this may be the case, owners and contractors should still take the time to plan appropriate safety procedures at the start of a project. Taking the time to plan out safety procedures will prevent the headache and expense of a lengthy lawsuit down the road.
By Pavlos Pavlatos – JD Candidate 2020