Fourth Department Rules on Labor Law Claims

Mulcaire v. Buffalo Structural Steel Constr. Corp., 846 N.Y.S.2d 838 (N.Y. App. Div. 2007)

In this case, a construction worker and a family member alleged Labor Law and common law negligence causes of action for injuries plaintiff sustained while installing floor decking in a building undergoing construction.  Plaintiff slipped and fell through an uncovered opening approximately 18 feet to the floor.  The trial court granted in part and denied in part plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, and denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment.  Defendants appealed.

The court reversed the lower court’s order granting plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment with respect to Labor Law § 241(6).  The court reasoning that defendants had raised an issue of fact regarding whether plaintiff was the sole proximate cause of his injuries by suggesting that plaintiff knew or should have known to cover the opening through which he fell. 

Similarly, the court reversed the order inasmuch as it denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment with respect to plaintiffs’ Labor Law § 200 and negligence claims.  The court reasoned that defendants had established that they neither exercised control over the manner or method of the injured plaintiff’s work nor had any control over the premises, and that plaintiffs failed to raise an issue of fact with respect to this issue. 

The court upheld the denial of defendants’ summary judgment motion with respect to the defendant-construction manager, however.  As a matter of law, that particular defendant had contractual authority to enforce safety standards and hire responsible contractors pursuant to Labor Law §§ 240(1) and 241(6), and thus automatically was subject to liability under the Labor Law.  The court explained: 

An entity is a contractor within the meaning of Labor Law § 240(1) and § 241(6) if it had the power to enforce safety standards and choose responsible subcontractors . . . and an entity is a general contractor if, in addition thereto, it was responsible for coordinating and supervising the . . . project.  In addition, the entity’s right to exercise control over the work denotes its status as a contractor, regardless of whether it actually exercised that right.

(Citations and internal quotations omitted.)

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