Getting a Recovery for Construction Accidents; Is It Construction or Cleaning?


New York’s Labor Law section 240(1) is often invoked in construction accidents because it imposes strict liability upon the building owner and the general contractor.

However, there is a difference between “construction” activities versus “cleaning.”  “Construction” will be protected while “cleaning” will not.  This was highlighted in a recent case, Dahar v. Holland Ladder & Mfg. Co. (Court of Appeals, February 21, 2012, # 23).

In Dahar plaintiff was injured while working at West Metal Works which was making a “wall module”.  This wall module was least seven feet high and was being made for Bechtel National for installation in a nuclear waste treatment plant.

          After the module was made, it had to be cleaned before being shipped to the nuclear waste plant.  Dahar was cleaning the module.  While standing on a ladder provided by his employer, West Metal, the ladder broke causing him to fall.

Dahar sued Bechtel and the landlords of his employer’s facility under authority of Labor Law section 240(1).  This statute imposes liability upon the building owner and contractor for a fall from a faulty ladder during construction.

The court ruled that the worker did not get the protections of the Labor Law.  In essence, he was “cleaning” rather than engaging in construction.

Although the Labor Law will afford protection to a worker who cleans the site during the course of construction, Dahar was cleaning a completed, manufactured product rather than a construction site.  The court apologized the situation to the situation of a bookstore employee climbing a ladder to dust-off a book.

However, each construction accident presents it own unique set of facts which should be reviewed with an attorney as soon as possible.  For example, cleaning windows of a commercial building will be covered while routine cleaning of a home will not. 

If you have been involved in a construction accident, please feel free to call me for a free consultation at 800-251-1434 or write to letters@seitelman.com.

Mark E. Seitelman, 2/22/12, www.seitelman.com.

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