Many of our construction worker clients are familar with Labor Law 240 (1). It imposes strict liability on the building owner and general contractor in the event of a failure of an elevation device, such as a scaffold, elevator, hoist, platform, etc. This has been discussed in our prior posts, such as here and here.
However, there is an exception to the rule under a Court of Appeals case, Narducci v. Manhasset Bay Associates, 96 NY2d 259, 727 NYS2d 37 (2001). Narducci changed the landscape of Labor Law cases.
I. The Narducci Case
Before, the Narducci decision courts permitted injured parties to recover if they were struck by a falling object on the job site. Narducci changed this.
In Narducci the worker was standing on a ladder when a large pane of glass from an adjacent window frame fell and struck his arm. The window was part of the pre-existing building and not part of the construction work. The Court of Appeals held that this accident did not fall within Labor Law 240 (1) in that the falling window was not part of the renovation. Furthermore, the window pane fell out of its frame, and it did not fall while being hoisted or lifted or elevated by one of the enumerated elevation devices of the statute.
Thus, a falling object may not fall within Labor Law 240 (1) unless it falls while being lifted or hoisted during the construction.
In another case decided in the Narducci decision, an electrician was standing on a ladder attaching light fixtures to a hung ceiling. The worker was standing on a ladder, and he had to snap-in the light fixture. The worker was descending the ladder, and a fixture that he snapped-in had become loose. He tried to catch it, but it cut his arm and wrist. The fixture fell while the worker was on the ladder. The worker was not caused to fall from the ladder. Again, the court noted that the falling object did not fall while being lifted or elevated during construction.
The key to both cases is that the falling objects did not fall while being elevated. There was no failure of an elevation device.
II. A Couple of Post-Narducci Cases
The Court of Appeals has carved-out a couple of exceptions to Narducci.
In Qutar v. City of New York, 5 NY2d 731 (2005), a worker was injured by an unsecured dolly which fell 5.5 feet form its place of storage. This dolly was used in the construction. The court stated that liability under 240 (1) was not restricted to only objects being hoisted or lifted during constructed. This case fell within the statute because the dolly was the object that required securing for the purposes of the construction work.
In a recent case, Quattrocchi v. F.J. Sciame Construction Co., 2008 NY Slip Op. 06736, the Court of Appeals held that Labor Law 240 (1) liability is not restricted to cases where the object is being either hoisted or lifted. In this case the worker was struck by falling planks which had been placed over open doors as a scaffold to facilitate installation of an air conditioner. The court held that 240 (1) was applicable.
III. How Things Have Change
Narducci changed construction law. Before an injured worker could impose Labor Law liability if an object fell on him from a height. After this case, the mere falling of an object from a height was not enough to get 240 (1) liability.
It seems that the falling object must be part of the work.
For example, before Narducci we had a case where a cermanic tile fell from the ceiling. The tile had been installed some time before it became loose. The tile struck our client. We were able to obtain recovery under Labor Law 240 (1). Narducci eliminated this type of case.
We had a case where a worker was injured by a pulley which failed. Before Narducci this would have been a perfect case in that liability would have been found in favor of the client, and the only issue would have been the amount of damages. However, our case was dismissed on the basis of the Court of Appeals decision which came down shortly before our case was to go to trial.
In our case the worker, a general laborer, was struck by a pulley which fell from a height. This occurred in the Warner Bros. store which was close to completion. The pulley was not being used in construction in that the store was ready to open. It was to be used to hold-up a decorative banner depicting a Warner Bros. cartoon character. On the basis that the pulley was neither hoisting nor lifting construction materials and was purely a decorative element, the court dismissed our case under Labor Law 240 (1).
A construction case and the applicability of Labor Law 240 (1) rest upon a sound work-up of the facts and the law. In the right case, we may be able to establish Labor Law liability within the framework of the Narducci case.
if you have been involved in construction accident, please feel free to discuss it with me at 800-581-1434.
Mark E. Seitelman, 9/28/08, www.seitelman.com.