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In Cesar Ortega v. New York, a construction worker was injured when a heavy metal pipe caused the platform/scaffold he was working on to topple over, sending him down eight feet to the ground. The construction project at issue was the Second Avenue Subway Tunnel Construction Project in Manhattan, so the worker sued the City of New York, among others.
Part of the plaintiff worker’s claim involved New York Labor Law section 240(1), which requires owners and contractors to provide safety devices to protect workers from the occurrence of gravity-related injuries. Given the nature of the accident at hand, the plaintiff moved for summary judgment on his 240(1) claim, arguing he should be entitled to judgment in his favor as a matter of law without having to prove any facts in a jury trial. The Supreme Court, New York County, denied the plaintiff’s motion, and the worker appealed.
The lower court denied the motion because the plaintiff had not established that the accident was foreseeable. In reversing the lower court, the appellate court held that foreseeability is not a required element of a section 240(1) claim, and the plaintiff is not required to produce expert testimony or any other evidence that the accident was foreseeable.
Under section 240(1), an owner or contractor is absolutely liable in damages for injuries sustained by a covered worker, and the worker only has to show that he was injured while engaging in a covered activity, and the contractor failed to provide adequate safety devices which resulted in a lack of worker protection. The rationale is that when a worker is performing an activity covered by section 240(1), an injury is automatically foreseeable if the owner or contractor does not provide the proper safety devices.
Back in 2008, the court in Jones v. 414 Equities LLC created a limited exception requiring the plaintiff to prove foreseeability when the accident involves the collapse of a permanent structure. In those cases, the contractor would not be required to provide a scaffold, hoist or other safety device unless it was foreseeable that the structure might collapse, an event which would not ordinarily be expected with a permanent structure. In this case, however, the platform and scaffold in question were clearly temporary structures, so the limited exception did not apply.
If you have been injured in a gravity-related accident or other type of construction accident, including scaffold collapses, ladder falls, and forklift and crane accidents, contact Leandros A. Vrionedes, P.C. in New York City for a free consultation.