Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Court of Appeals Holds That A Coupling Is Not A Labor Law Safety Device

In Fabrizi v. 1095Ave/ of the Arms LLC, plaintiff was injured when a conduit pipe fell on his hand.  Plaintiff was an electrician relocating a “pencil box”, which provided access to telecommunication wires on each floor.  While moving a metal support that required him to drill holes in the wall and leaving the top conduit dangling from compression coupling, the top conduit fell, striking the plaintiff.  Plaintiff was granted partial summary judgment, reasoning that as the conduit was attached to the ceiling, it was not properly secured to protect plaintiff.

On appeal, the Appellate division modified the order to deny plaintiff summary judgment, as the plaintiff failed to illustrate that the lack of a protective device was the cause of the incident.  On appeal to the Court of Appeals, the High Court determined that the Appellate Division should have granted summary judgment to the defendants, “because they established as a matter of law that the conduit did not fall on plaintiff due to the absence or inadequacy of an enumerated safety device.”  This was because the compression coupling kept the “pencil box” together but was not designed for safety.  The Court of Appeals did not address the issue of foreseeability, which was a main topic of the Appellate Division’s decision.

Chief Judge Lippman dissented, urging that plaintiff established an entitlement to summary judgment since “his gravity-related injury was proximately caused by the defendants’ failure to provide an adequate safety device.”  He went further and emphasized that a tool capable of stabilizing the conduit pipe “would be precisely the sort of device contemplated by section 240(1).”  In addition, the dissent rejected the notion that plaintiff caused the accident as it occurred after he dismantled the “pencil box” since this was “standard procedure in the trade.”  However, the majority asserted that “section 240(1) does not automatically apply simply because an object fell and injured a worker.”

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