A construction worker was injured when he fell while performing paint removal and applying liquid primer to the outer walls of a building that was undergoing renovation work. Within the building there was a large pipe scaffold that spanned more than 10 stories. He was directed by his foreman where to go and perform the paint removal and primer work.
On the day of his accident, the worker was told to perform this work in the corner of the building on the fifth floor. He carried the liquid primer in a container on his back. He was not tied off or in any other way secured to the scaffold as he needed to move from location to location to perform this work.
After working for several hours, he had to access to a portion of the wall which did not have a scaffold platform in the vicinity. To access this area, the worker climbed on the pipes to get next to the wall. As he was moving along the pipes, he slipped and fell approximately eight feet down to a lower level.
As a result of this accident, the worker sustained serious injuries which required surgeries to his ankle, wrist, and lower back.
The worker sued the owner of the premises under Labor Law § 240. Labor Law § 240(1) protects construction workers from gravity-related risks such as falling from a height or being struck by a falling object. Liability under this section is governed by statute and construction site owners and general contractors can be held strictly liable for violations of Labor Law § 240(1). The plaintiff's comparative fault cannot be considered, which makes this statute very plaintiff-friendly.
The defendant moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the worker’s actions were the sole proximate cause of his injuries. A Labor Law defendant can argue that they are not liable for a plaintiff’s injuries, if the plaintiff’s actions were the only reason the accident occurred.
Here, the defendant argued that it was the worker’s decision to go onto the pipes that was the sole proximate cause of his accident and injuries. The defendant argued that it was not required to provide the worker with any fall protection other than the scaffold that was already provided.
The worker opposed the motion, arguing that the owner violated Labor Law § 240 by failing to erect railings on the bracket scaffold and by failing to provide the work with a lifeline or other proper anchorage for the worker to tie off a safety harness. The worker used all of the safety devices that was provided to him. He testified that he was not provided with a safety harness or a place to tie himself on to. He also testified that there was no protection from falling off the edge of the platform and pipes.
The worker also pointed to the testimony of his employer who stated that they only provided workers with safety lines when they erected and removed scaffolding. He also testified that when the workers are wearing their protective rain gear – which the worker was wearing at the time of his accident – it is too bulky to fit a harness over.
Accordingly, the worker argued that he could not be the sole proximate cause of his accident, when the owner’s failure to provide him with proper protection, as required by Labor Law § 240 was at least a proximate cause of his accident.
The Court held that questions of fact existed as to the cause of the worker’s accident and the case proceeded to trial.
At trial, the jury found that the owner erected the scaffold in an unsafe manner, in violation of Labor Law § 240. The jury awarded the plaintiff $8,400,000 in damages.
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