Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lippman Court Further Expands Labor Law 240(1)

Last year, we highlighted the First Department's decision in Wilinski v. 334 E. 92nd Hous. Dev. Fund Corp.  In this case, the First Department held that the collapse of pipes standing on the floor, like the collapse of a wall, does not give rise to a Labor Law Sec. 240(1) claim. The Court reasoned that because the pipes and plaintiff "'were at the same level at the time of the collapse the incident was not sufficiently attributable to elevation differentials to warrant imposition of liability pursuant to Labor Law § 240.'"

Today, the Court of Appeals, in a 4-3 decision, modified, holding that there is no categorical exclusion to Labor Law Sec. 240(1) for injuries caused by falling objects that are at the same level as the plaintiff at the time of the accident.  In doing so, the Court of Appeals eliminated an exception that had been well-recognized across the Departments and once again has expanded the reach of Labor Law 240(1). 

Relying on Runner v. New York Stock Exch, Inc., the Court held that the issue is "whether the plaintiff's injuries were the direct consequence of a failure to provide adequate protection against a risk arising from a physically significant elevation differential."  Applying that analysis the Court stated that there was a question of fact as to whether the plaintiff's injury was the direct consequence of the alleged failure to provide an adequate safety device.  According to the Court, the plaintiff merely asserted, but did not demonstrate, that safety devices could have been used and the defendant asserted, but did not demonstrate, that no safety devices were needed.

The Court also held that the Appellate Division properly denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's Labor Law Sec. 241(6) claims, which were premised on 12 NYCRR 23-3.3(b)(3) and 12 NYCRR 23-3.3(c).

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