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Court Says What a “Floor” is and Sheds Light on “Foreign Substances”

Amidst all the laws and rules and regulations overflowing with complex, technical language, don’t you sometimes wish the court would just pick up a dictionary and decide that words should just be given their plain, everyday meaning? Well, sometimes judges agree, as the following recent construction injury case illustrates.

In the case of McAllister v. Phoenix Constructors, JV, decided on November 28, 2011, the Supreme Court, New York County was presented with a personal injury construction site accident which occurred in a New York City subway tunnel. The accident occurred when a crew of ironworkers were lifting a 250-300 pound metal beam to place on a catwalk platform. The plaintiff, who was one of the crew, slipped on some grease or creosote and fell to the ground. The beam fell too, landing on his wrist and fracturing it.

The plaintiff sued under New York Labor Law 241 (6), which requires contractors and property owners to make sure that workers are adequately protected during construction projects. A regulation on slipping hazards which falls under 241 (6) is 12 NYCRR 23-1.7 (d), which states: “Employers shall not suffer or permit any employee to use a floor, passageway, walkway, scaffold, platform or other elevated working surface which is in a slippery condition; ice, snow, water, grease and any other foreign substance which may cause slippery footing shall be removed, sanded or covered to provide safe footing.”

The defendants in this case first argued that a subway track bed is not a “floor,” “passageway,” or “walkway” and is therefore not covered under the regulation. The court resorted to Webster’s Dictionary a track bed does indeed fit within the common, everyday meaning of a floor.

The defendants next argued that grease on the track bed was not a “foreign substance” as required by the regulation, because you would normally expect to see grease on a track bed. The court corrected the defendants’ misinterpretation: the regulation means that the substance must be foreign to the construction project; the grease is a foreign substance unless the defendants can show that it was placed there as part of the construction project.

Sometimes personal injury cases are complex, and sometimes defendant insurance companies and their lawyers make the cases appear more complicated than they really are. If you have been injured in a New York City construction accident, contact Leandros A. Vrionedes, P.C. for a free consultation with a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney who speaks the court’s language.