New York Scaffolding Law: Key Considerations for Insurers

New York Scaffolding Law, Labor Law §240(1)

Safety is one of the key components of any commercial construction project. While as adjusters, we must leave job site safety to construction managers and general contractors, the claims departments of insurance companies must mitigate damages when the claim occurs. Therefore, it is important to stay informed about recent legal developments so that claims managers can proactively enhance their knowledge of the legal landscapes surrounding construction site accidents under the New York Scaffolding Law. This blog post will explore insights gained from recent New York Court of Appeals decisions and discuss their implications for insurance claims managers and directors.

Commercial construction projects and the New York Scaffolding Law

The nature of commercial construction involves dangerous activities, most notably working from heights. When workers are at elevated heights the risk for injuries from falling from those heights is significant. Additionally, the risk of objects falling from heights to workers below is also significant. This is why New York Scaffolding Law or Labor Law §240(1) is such an important topic when it comes to insurance claims involving construction sites.

Without doing a deep dive into the history of this section of labor law, It is important to note that this law was put in place to ensure that general contractors and property owners remain strictly liable for any injuries sustained by a worker who falls from an elevated height or from a worker who is injured when an object falls from a height onto them. This is known colloquially in the industry as this scaffolding law.

Overview of the recent Court of Appeals decisions on the New York Scaffolding Law

The New York Court of Appeals recently issued significant decisions that have implications for handling labor law cases in New York. These rulings will provide valuable insights into the interpretation of the New York Scaffolding Law and shed light on the responsibilities of both workers and employers in preventing accidents. By placing more burden on the workers than in past cases it is important for claims managers and directors to understand these latest interpretations.

Case Study 1: Cutaia v. The Board of Managers of the 160/170 Varick Street Condominium

In this case, the planning was working on a building renovation project that involved cutting and rerouting pipes that were taking place near some electrical wiring. The plaintiff was using an A-frame ladder that was not extended but was leaned against the wall and folded position. It was closed and unlocked due to space limitations in the area where he was working. He received an electric shock while standing on the ladder and fell to the ground.

In its decision on this case, the New York Court of Appeals emphasizes that an accident alone close quote is insufficient to establish a violation of Labor Law §240(1). Instead of focusing solely on the fall, the court looked deeper into whether the ladder provided adequate protection against the accident and if additional safety devices should have been provided.

The court’s decision, in this case, raises an important question for insurance claims managers and directors to consider when assessing claims related to ladder incidents. We now need to evaluate whether the ladder was suitable for the task at hand and whether it provided proper protection against potential accidents. A ladder itself is often seen as an adequate safety device.

In this case, the analysis highlights the importance of considering the plaintiff’s responsibility in performing safety checks and using equipment properly. Claim departments should examine whether a claimant took reasonable precautions, such as ensuring the latter was properly secured and examining its locking mechanisms.

Case Study 2: Bonczar v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc.

Here is another case involving a fall from a ladder. In this case, the plaintiff was retrofitting a movie theater fire alarm system. He had climbed up and down the ladder several times without any issues, but during his final descent, the latter shifted, and this caused him to fall.

A jury determined that the defendant did not violate Labor Law §240(1), and the appeals court affirmed this verdict. The court’s opinion emphasized the importance of the ” sole proximate cause defense in ladder cases. They recognized that the positioning of a ladder and the worker’s failure to check a letter’s locking mechanisms could be considered the sole proximate cause of the accident.

This decision also has significant implications for insurance claim departments, reinforcing that a plaintiff’s failure to adhere to proper safety practices and precautions can impact liability. Claims examiners need to carefully examine ladder incidents’ circumstances to evaluate whether the plaintiff’s actions contributed to the accident by failing to set the equipment up properly or to inspect it for safety. For claims managers and directors, ensure that your staff is aware of the sole proximate cause defense. This is especially important when the plaintiffs positioned their own ladders on uneven ground or failed to ensure proper locking and securing of a ladder.

Case Study 3: Healy v. EST Downtown, LLC

In this case, the maintenance and repair technician plaintiff fell from an unsecured 8-ft ladder while responding to a pest control work order. He attempted to remove a bird’s nest, and the ladder shifted, causing him to fall.

While this case is another letter case that could be subject to the sole proximate cause argument, The plaintiff in this matter motioned for partial summary judgment on a Labor Law §240(1) claim. The court of appeals reversed the appellate division’s decision and denied the plaintiff’s motion. The courts stated that the plaintiff’s work did not fall within Labor Law §240(1) and referenced the cleaning exception. This exception relates to work that is considered routine and part of the ordinary maintenance and care of commercial premises. In other words, this was not construction work but was rather a cleaning work.

So, while the sole approximate cause defense is likely valid in this case, it is also important to remind your claims staff that cases involving routine maintenance tasks such as cleaning or pest control often will not qualify for protection under New York Scaffolding Law, Labor Law §240(1). This reminder, however, should be tempered with the understanding that the routine maintenance exception can be a nuanced concept that may require a closer examination by defense counsel. For example, some cleaning operations may also require repairs to damaged items while the cleaning person is accessing the area. Those repairs may be deemed repair work and not routine maintenance or cleaning if they are significant enough.

The Impact on Future Cases

These recent decisions in the broad language used by the court indicate that there may be a shift in the analysis of Labor Law §240(1) cases, particularly when ladder-related incidents are involved. Just because someone falls at a construction site no longer automatically constitutes a violation of labor law and the applicability of strict liability against the owner in a general contractor. Courts are now encouraged to perform a broader analysis that considers, on the one hand, whether or not the ladder supplied to the worker was sufficient and safe but, on the other hand, whether or not the plaintiff was in any way responsible for evaluating the safety of that item and operating it properly. It is clear from these cases that the worker will likely have a duty to perform safety checks before using a letter.

These decisions provide a favorable position for defendants in Labor Law §240(1) cases. Insurance claims managers and directors should educate their staff on asking the correct questions relating to ladders and safety equipment used on job sites. It is important to determine what the claimant did or did not do to ensure their safety while using these devices.

To perform adequate investigations on cases such as this, inspecting the equipment used immediately after the accident is important. The device should be examined for missing components or parts that do not operate properly.

The scene where the incident took place will be important as well. Was the ground uneven? If so, were there any efforts to make the site safe for using that ladder before its employment by the worker? Now we see that if the worker failed to use the item safely, a defense against Labor Law §240(1) claims might exist.

Additionally, an important distinction must be made as to whether the worker was involved in construction work or routine maintenance, which is in the normal course of maintaining a commercial building.

If your claims department handles New York Scaffolding Law, Labor Law §240(1) cases, you are likely dealing with claimant attorneys. These attorneys can sometimes be difficult to deal with, and if this is a challenge for your staff, be sure to check out our comprehensive white paper, “Defense Secrets: Insights on Injury Attorneys.” In this white paper, you will be able to gain insights into the challenges faced by claims adjusters and learn how to navigate the complexities of dealing with injury attorneys.

If Auten Claims Management can ever be of service in handling or advising any labor law cases, please feel free to contact this right away at 585-454-8094.