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New York Labor Law and the Law of Gravity

Ever since the New York Court of Appeals case of Misseritti v. Mark IV Constr. Co. in 1995, some New York courts have believed that a worker who is injured by a falling object cannot recover when the base of the falling object was at the same level as the worker. The Court of Appeals had a chance to clear up this confusion recently in the case of Wilinski v 334 E. 92nd Hous. Dev. Fund Corp., decided on October 25, 2011.

Mr. Wilinski was in the process of demolishing brick walls in a building. Previous demolition work had left plumbing pipes rising up ten feet from out of the floor where Mr. Wilinski was working. Mr. Wilinski warned his supervisors that leaving these pipes unsecured was dangerous, but no action was taken to secure them. These pipes later toppled over, knocking off Mr. Wilinski’s hard hat and giving him a concussion, among other injuries.

Mr. Wilinski sued under Labor Law section 240 (1), which requires that protective devices be in place during construction projects, such as scaffolds, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices. This law was written to protect workers from hazards related to the effects of gravity based on the difference in elevation between the work being performed and a worker on a lower level, or where materials are being hoisted or secured above the worker “falling from a height or being struck by a falling object that was improperly hoisted or inadequately secured.”

The defendant in the case argued that section 240(1) did not apply, because the pipe that struck the plaintiff was on the same level as the worker. The Court of Appeals, however, held that the difference in elevation between the ten foot pipes and the 5’6″ worker was enough to bring the statute into play. This decision is very important for workers struck by falling objects, who might otherwise be uncompensated for their injuries in such a situation.

The plaintiff initially won a summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals sent the case back for a trial on the issue of whether the pipes should have been secured or not. The Wilinski case provides a comprehensive review of the last 15 years of section 240 cases and is very instructive as to what types of accidents are covered under the law. Construction is a dangerous industry, and construction accidents have to be closely examined to determine whether negligence played a role and which particular law applies to hold the responsible party accountable. If you or a loved one has been injured in a construction accident or other workplace injury, contact Leandros A. Vrionedes, P.C. for a free consultation with an experienced attorney who is well-versed in New York labor law.