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

Less than a week ago, the Court of Appeals decided a Labor Law case in which it defined the circumstances under which a contractor or agent of the owner may be liable for damages to an injured worker.

The decision, Bowles v. Clean Harbors Environmental Services, Inc., while not groundbreaking, is useful because it reiterates what role contractors and agents must have at a construction site in order to be liable under the Labor Law when there is a construction accident.

To be found liable as a contractor, a defendant must have been granted the power to enforce safety standards and hire subcontractors.  Liability premised on a defendant acting as an owner’s agent requires that the defendant have authority to supervise and control the activity which brought about the injury.

All too often, plaintiff’s attorneys ignore these standards, operating under the assumption that if a contractor is involved with the work, or higher up in the chain of command than the injured worker and his company, it is liable. But, as set forth by the Court of Appeals, that isn’t so.

In the case, the defendant company was hired to clean chemical storage tanks located at a facility owned by Schenectady International, Inc. (“SI”). Before the cleaning could begin, however, an SI safety policy required that SI first inspect the air quality and issue a confined space permit. The plaintiff, an employee of SI, was using a ladder that had been propped up against a tank in order to check the air quality, when the ladder suddenly kicked out from underneath him and he fell 10 feet to the ground below.

Because the defendant was hired for the limited purpose of cleaning the tanks, and could not commence cleaning the tanks until the permit was issued, it was not liable for the reason that it did not have authority or control over how SI conducted its confined space inspection, nor could it enforce safety standards in connection therewith.

The defendant, therefore, was properly awarded summary judgment on the grounds that it was not considered to be a contractor or owner’s agent to be liable under Labor Law 240(1) or 241(6).

One Response to “Court of Appeals Decision Defines Who is a Liable Party in a Construction Accident Lawsuit”

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