Tuesday, February 21, 2012

“Cleaning” Under Labor Law § 240(1) Is Narrower Than Its Literal Definition Would Indicate

In Dahar v. Holland Ladder & Mfg. Co. (2012 NY Slip Op 01322), the Court of Appeals rejected the argument that the obvious “cleaning” of a “structure” during the manufacture of a product was protected under Labor Law § 240(1). More specifically, the Court rejected the argument that section 240(1) protects every activity that might fit within the literal meaning of the word “cleaning” as “too simple” and noted that such an argument would lead to an expansion of liability that was not supported by the Court’s precedent and not intended by the Legislature.

To provide further context, the Court noted that plaintiff’s formulation, which it rejected, would mean that “Every bookstore employee who climbs a ladder to dust off a bookshelf; every maintenance worker who climbs to a height to clean a light fixture – these and many others would become potential Labor Law § 240(1) plaintiffs.” In reviewing the present facts, the Court declined to extend the statute “so far beyond the purposes it was designed to serve.”

The Court also noted that the statute’s “central concern is the dangers that beset workers in the construction industry” even while adding that the Court previously refused to limit the statute to tasks that were part of construction, demolition, or repair projects. The Court cautioned, however, that all except one of its “cleaning” cases involved window cleaning, and even then not all window cleaning were within the statutory term, citing its cases on domestic window cleaners.

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