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When is a Contractor Not a Contractor?

New York Labor Law 240(1) requires “contractors and owners and their agents” to provide scaffolds, ladders, hoists and other safety devices to protect workers from gravity-related hazards, such as falls or falling objects, during construction projects, including erection, demolition, repairing, painting, and more. Section 241 places duties on “contractors and owners and their agents” in construction, excavation and demolition to protect workers by providing adequate supports to walls and floors, among other things.

With so many parties involved in a major construction project, it can be difficult to determine who is responsible when a workplace injury occurs. A diligent plaintiff’s lawyer will try to identify all the different owners, contractors and subcontractors who may be potential defendants, but this often leads to a series of complicated motions and cross-motions, as every party tries to avoid liability and point the finger anywhere but back at itself.

In the recent case of Naughton v. NYC, a construction worker was injured when he fell from a pile of curtain wall panels stacked on top of a flatbed truck. The worker was off-loading the panels by attaching them to a crane, but the bundles were not properly secured and one swung into the worker, knocking him down 15 feet to the street below. Even worse, the worker had not been provided with a ladder but was made to climb onto the bundles on top of the truck, so he had no way to get down from the truck safely to avoid being struck.

The accident occurred during a project o renovate the Family Court building in Lower Manhattan. Naughton was an employee of Metal Sales Co., Inc., which was hired by W & W Glass Systems, Inc. to unload and install the curtain wall panels. W & W Glass had been hired by Petrocelli Construction, Inc. to handle all the curtain wall, glass and stone work on the project. Petrocelli was the general contractor for the job, except that when it got sued, it claimed that it was not a “contractor” responsible for Naughton’s safety under section 240(1), because it did not supervise his work.

The court didn’t agree with that argument. Petrocelli had authority and control over the work site, and Petrocelli hired the subs (even though Naughton’s employer was a sub-sub hired by the sub hired by Petrocelli). Whether Petrocelli actually supervised the work in question did not determine the outcome. The appellate court reversed the lower court’s dismissal of Naughton’s 240(1) claim. Not only did the court reinstate the claim, but it granted summary judgment for the plaintiff, holding Petrocelli liable as a contractor.

If you were injured on a construction project, be sure to contact an experienced construction accident attorney who can untangle the situation and seek compensation from all the appropriate parties. In New York City, contact Leandros A. Vrionedes, P.C. for assistance.