A roofer was injured when he was performing work at a city school in Queens. The school was undergoing heavy renovation, including masonry work, replacement of parapets, roof replacement, electrical work, and interior renovation. The roofer was working for a subcontractor hired by the New York City School Construction Authority. On the day of his accident, the roofer was instructed by his supervisor, to go onto the roof of a bulkhead and install metal coping.
The roof of the bulkhead was approximately fifteen (15) feet above the surface of the main roof. His supervisor told him to use an extension ladder to reach the bulkhead. This extension ladder was the only way to access the top of the bulkhead. The ladder was only tied off on one side. Before his work, the roofer asked the ladder to be tied off on both sides so that it could not move. His supervisor told him that he would need to tell those who installed the ladder to secure it, but that it could not be tied off on both sides, because there was nothing to tie it off to.
As the roofer was finishing up for the night, he attempted to descend the ladder to come down from the bulkhead. To descend the ladder, he grabbed the top of the ladder and brought his left foot around and placed it on a rung of the ladder that was one rung below the roof level. As he brought his right foot around to place on the same rung of the ladder, the ladder suddenly moved to the right and backwards (off the bulkhead). When the ladder swung to the right and back, the roofer’s left foot came off the rung of the ladder and he fell down and landed on the roof below. As a result of this accident, the he suffered serious injuries, including a calcaneus fracture which required open reduction, internal fixation surgery to his foot. He also suffered herniations to the lumbar spine which required a surgical fusion.
The roofer sued the City, City Department of Education, and New York City School Construction Authority. Following discovery phase of this case, the injured roofer asked the judge to assess liability against these three defendants. Labor Law § 240(1) protects workers from gravity-related risks such as falling from a height or being struck by a falling object when they are engaged in a number of construction activities. The statute states that construction site owners and general contractors are held strictly liable for violations of Labor Law § 240(1) regardless of whether they control the work being performed.
The injured roofer argued that the ladder he was provided – which shifted and moved while he was descending – was not properly secured for the work he was performing, and the defendants failed to provide him with a proper safety device from which to perform his work.
The defendants argued that the roofer had told his supervisor a different version of how the accident occurred when he was preparing his accident report. Specifically, he said that the roofer told him that he lost his balance when he was descending the ladder and that as a result he jumped off the ladder. The defendants argued that the supervisor’s testimony essentially created two versions of the accident and that this created an issue of fact that only a jury, and not the judge, could decide.
In reply to the defendants’ opposition, the roofer argued that even if every word of the supervisor’s testimony were believed, the “two versions” of how the roofers accident occurred were not actually inconsistent. The supervisor said the roofer told him that he lost his balance. He however, did not mention whether he asked him what caused him to lose his balance. The roofer argued that the ladder shifting is what caused him to lose his balance and fall off the ladder and that the supervisor’s version of the accident was inconsistent. It was just incomplete.
The Court found this argument convincing, and consistent with applicable case law. Accordingly, the judge granted the injured roofer’s request and assessed liability against the defendants in this case and also remanded the case to trial on the issue of damages only. That means that the jurors at the time of trial will only decide the amount of compensation and deliberate solely as to how much each injury is worth. They would not opine on the question of who was at fault for this accident, as the judge ruled on this issue it already. Additionally, every time a judge assesses liability against a defendant in any accident case, an interest begin to accrue on any future compensation an injured party will receive, at a rate of 9% a year.
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