Subcontractor Liable for Damages Caused by Equipment It Was Contractually Obligated to Provide at Construction Site

Urbina v. 26 Court St. Assocs., LLC, 847 N.Y.S.2d 67 (N.Y. App. Div. 2007)

This case involved causes of action for negligence, violations of Labor Law §§ 200, 240(1) and 241(6), and loss of consortium brought by an electrician, Urbina, and his wife.  Plaintiffs sought to recover damages for injuries sustained when a platform upon which Urbina was kneeling collapsed at a construction site.  That platform had been installed by the drywall subcontractor, R&J Construction Corp. for its own use.  Plaintiffs brought claims against the owner of the premises, the lessee of the premises, and R&J.  The issues on appeal involved the reasonableness of the damages awarded to plaintiffs, and contractual indemnification between defendants. 

Regarding the first issue, the First Department remanded the case for a new trial solely related to damages, finding the pain and suffering amounts awarded in the lower court were unreasonable.  The court ruled, however, that an agreement by plaintiffs to stipulate to reduced awards would obviate the need for a new trial.

Second, the First Department found that R&B was obligated to indemnify the licensee of the property.  R&J argued that its contractual indemnity obligations were only triggered if Urbina’s accident arose out of work R&J was performing with the lessee with whom it had a contract.  Because Urbina was performing electrical work when he was injured, rather than carpentry work covered by R&J’s contract, R&J disclaimed all liability.  The contractual provision at issue provided, in pertinent part, that R&J had to indemnify the owner and lessee of the premises against “all claims, . . . liability [and] damages . . . arising out of the work performed under th[e] contract” and did not contain any language limiting the scope of that obligation.  The First Department reasoned that R&J’s contractual obligation to provide the scaffold was sufficient to trigger its contractual indemnification obligations.  Therefore, the court concluded that Urbina’s authority to use the scaffold was immaterial to R&J’s liability for any injuries arising out of use of that scaffold.  (In dicta, the court noted that it was not deciding whether a different conclusion would result if R&J had attempted to prevent use of the scaffold by unauthorized persons.)

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