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Height is Not the Issue in Construction Injuries Caused by Falling Objects

In McAllister v. Phoenix Constructors, JV, decided on November 28, 2011, the Supreme Court, New York County held the contractor and the Port Authority liable in a New York City subway construction accident for failing to provide a mechanical hoist to protect a worker who was injured when he slipped while manually hoisting a 250-300 pound metal beam with a crew of about five other ironworkers (see Failure to Provide Safety Devices Violates New York Labor Law). The beam fell on the worker’s wrist and fractured it. The court held that failing to provide the hoist was a violation of New York Labor Law section 240 (1), which requires contractors and owners to provide such protective devices.

The defendants in the case had argued that the height differential was too small to require a hoist and be covered under 240 (1). The accident occurred while lifting the beam from the ground to a catwalk platform placed at chest level to the workers. The court disagreed, however, citing the weight of the beam and the amount of force that could be generated with just a short drop.

This case demonstrates that whether the elevation differential is “physically significant” or “substantial” enough to invoke 240 (1) liability depends upon the facts and can be different from case to case. In fact, New York courts have found liability in forklift accidents and other construction accidents on several occasions where the height differential was only three or four feet (see New York Labor Law and the Law of Gravity).

The defendants also argued that the injury was caused by a slip and fall (plaintiff slipped on grease or creosote while lifting the beam; see Court Says What a “Floor” is and Sheds Light on “Foreign Substances”), so they should not be liable for failing to provide a hoist. This argument was also rejected by the court. Even though the accident happened when the plaintiff slipped, the elevation risk still existed, and the injury would not have occurred if a different method of lifting the beam, using protective devices, was employed.

For advice and representation in a New York City construction accident or other personal injury, contact Leandros A. Vrionedes, P.C.