New York appellate courts have issued a flurry of decisions in recent days interpreting Labor Law Sections 240 and 241, also known as the Scaffolding Law.
A determination of liability against a project owner under Section 240 is not the equivalent of a finding that its contractor was negligent. So said the Supreme Court Appellate Division’s 1st Department in a ruling issued Oct. 28. A worker fell from a scaffold that shifted as he was working. No one had locked the scaffold’s wheels, nor had anyone given the worker safety devices. The worker successfully sued the project owner for violations of 240. The owner then sought indemnification under its contract with the worker’s employer. The contract required the employer to indemnify the owner for losses only to the extent that the employer wholly or partly caused them. The court held that a grant of indemnification was premature because no court had found the employer negligent yet.
The same court ruled that a contractor owed indemnification to the City of New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art for liability resulting from a fatal accident. The contractor’s worker fell to his death while re-caulking and sealing glass skylights on the museum roof. The contractor had safety cables to tie off its workers but had not installed them at the time of accident; OSHA subsequently concluded that the employer had committed serious safety violations. Court records show that the city and museum had no prior notice of unsafe practices, and the worker’s survivors did not claim that the city and museum had been negligent. The court held that the city and museum are entitled to indemnification because there was no evidence of negligence on their part.
New York’s highest court threw out a claim under Section 240, saying that the injury was unrelated to the hazard that required a safety device. The injured worker was standing on a ladder at the time of the injury. However, two unconnected pipes protruding from a wall caused the injury. The court said that the pipes were “usual and ordinary dangers at a construction site…to which the extraordinary protections of Labor Law 240(1) do not extend.”