A New York Construction Accident Lawyer Who Represents Injured Workers Tracking Developments in Construction Accident Law.

The Court of Appeals has recently expanded the scope of Labor Law 240(1) (the Scaffold Law) by refocusing it on whether the cause of a construction accident is gravity-related, as opposed to a historical tendency to simply view whether it involved a falling worker or falling object from high above. This signals a positive development in New York construction accident law.

In Wilinski v. 334 East 92nd Housing Development Fund Corp., the plaintiff was a construction worker who was demolishing brick walls at a vacant warehouse when an unsecured vertical plumbing pipe about 10 feet tall fell over onto him. Debris from a nearby wall being demolished struck the pipe which caused its fall.

Prior decisions had held that an object that toppled over, with its base at the same level as the plaintiff, did not result in a Labor Law 240(1) violation. This was historically considered to be due to the fact that the worker and the object were at the same level. Hence, there was no falling object from above that fell onto the plaintiff.

The Court of Appeals held that the “core premise” of the statute is to impose liability when there is a “failure to provide workers with adequate protection from reasonably preventable, gravity-related accidents.” It also differentiated prior decisions, such as the Misseritti case from 1995, saying there was no liability not because the object was at the same level as the plaintiff, but rather because there was no causal nexus between the accident and the lack of a safety device enumerated in the statute. For instance, in Misseritti a wall fell over onto the plaintiff; “braces” which are enumerated in the statute as a safety device are of the type used to support elevated work sites, not to shore up walls.

The Court then reiterated its holding in a recent decision from 2009, Runner v. New York Stock Exchange, Inc., that “the single decisive question is whether plaintiff’s injuries were the direct consequence of a failure to provide adequate protection against a risk arising from a physically significant elevation differential.”

Here, there was a significant elevation differential because the ten foot pipe fell at least four feet onto the worker below who stood about 5-feet 6-inches. And the accident was caused by gravity.

Again, we see a drift in Court of Appeals decisions in favor of expanded protections for injured workers. This is a welcome decision for New York construction workers and New York construction accident lawyers.

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