For those who have practiced in the area of New York Construction Accidents both plaintiff and defense attorneys can agree on one point: the law interpreting New York Labor Law, Section 240(1) is constantly changing. The pendulum swings back and forth. For a brief discussion of the ever changing law click here. With regard to falling objects, prior to 2001 if an object at a New York Construction Site fell striking a worker the plaintiff won. Then in May of 2001 that changed with the decision by The Court of Appeals in Narducci v Manhasset Bay Assoc., 96 N.Y.2d 259, 268, 750 N.E.2d 1085, 727 N.Y.S.2d 37 ) in which The Court held;
“With respect to falling objects, Labor Law § 240 (1) applies where the falling of an object is related to “a significant risk inherent in … the relative elevation … at which materials or loads must be positioned or secured” ( Rocovich v Consolidated Edison Co., supra, 78 NY2d, at 514). Thus, for section 240 (1) to apply, a plaintiff must show more than simply that an object fell causing injury to a worker. A plaintiff must show that the object fell, while being hoisted or secured, because of the absence or inadequacy of a safety device of the kind enumerated in the statute…”
What followed was a rash of dismissed “falling object” cases. Then in 2005 The Court in Outar v City of New York, 5 NY3d 731, 731, 832 N.E.2d 1186, 799 N.Y.S.2d 770 affirmed summary judgment for the plaintiff who had been injured when struck by a falling Dolly holding “The elevation differential between the dolly and plaintiff was sufficient to trigger Labor Law § 240 (1)’s protection, and the dolly was an object that required securing for the purposes of the undertaking…”
Narducci went silently into the night with The Court’s holding in, Quattrocchi v F.J. Sciame Constr. Corp., 11 NY3d 757, 758, 896 N.E.2d 75, 866 N.Y.S.2d 592 wherein The Court held; “As our holding in Outar v City of New York indicates, “falling object” liability under Labor Law § 240 (1) is not limited to cases in which the falling object is in the process of being hoisted or secured…”
On March 2, 2010 The New York Appellate Division,1st. Dept. decided Harris v. 170 E. End Ave., LLC, 2010 NY Slip Op 01691. The facts as set forth by The Court were;
“Plaintiff, a steel worker, was injured during the construction of a 19-story condominium building. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was standing on the eighth floor of the structure. He was assisting in landing steel reinforcing bars on that floor, which were being lowered from the twelfth to the eighth floor by a crane. During the descent, the crane’s cable struck a bundle of several hundred 4-inch by 4-inch by 16-foot wooden beams known as stringers or reshore. The bundle was situated on the tenth floor. The crane cable dislodged the bundle from its perch, causing the bundle to fall to the eighth floor, striking plaintiff and his co-worker. The co-worker died from his injuries.
Plaintiff moved for summary judgment under Labor Law § 240(1). He claimed that the statute applied because the accident was caused by the operation of gravity, insofar as the bundle of stringers was above him, and fell because of the absence of an adequate safety device. Defendants cross-moved for summary judgment to dismiss the entire complaint, which also alleged violations of Labor Law sections 200 and 241(6). With respect to the section 240(1) claim, they argued that there was no violation because the bundle of stringers which struck plaintiff was properly secured. To support this contention, they submitted the affidavit of an expert who opined that defendants utilized the standard practice and procedure for storing stringers.” In affirming summary judgment for the plaintiff The Court held;
“Even assuming, without deciding, that defendants established that the bundle of stringers was secured in accordance with industry practice, summary judgment was properly granted to plaintiff on his claim pursuant to Labor Law § 240(1). That section “evinces a clear legislative intent to provide exceptional protection’ for workers against the special hazards’ that arise when the work site either is itself elevated or is positioned below the level where materials or load [are] hoisted or secured'” (Ross v Curtis-Palmer Hydro-Elec. Co., 81 NY2d 494, 500-501 , quoting Rocovich v Consolidated Edison Co., 78 NY2d 509, 514 ). The statute is one of strict liability. Therefore, it is irrelevant that a safety device was provided if an accident that the device was intended to prevent still befalls the plaintiff. Here, the bundle of stringers fell as a result of a foreseeable construction-related accident, not an act of God or other calamity which defendants could not have anticipated. Thus, section 240(1) was violated, notwithstanding that the bundle may have been chocked in accordance with industry protocol.”
Given recent New York Court of Appeals decisions in construction accident cases involving Section 240(1), see, Runner v New York Stock Exchange, Inc., NY3d, 2009 WL 4840213, 2009 NY Slip Op 09310, 2009, it is submitted that the pendulum has swung back, i.e. an object at a construction site falls from a height plaintiff wins.