Objects Falling From Ground Level Can Trigger Liability Under NY Scaffold Law

Wilinski v. 334 East 92ND Housing Dev. Fund Corp. et. al., 18 N.Y.3d 1, 935 N.Y.S.2d 551 (N.Y. 2011)

The New York Court of Appeals held that New York Labor Law § 240(1) could apply to injuries caused by a falling object whose base stands at the same level as the injured worker.  The Plaintiff was a construction worker who, while in the process of demolishing walls in a vacant building, was injured when two ten-foot poles which rose out of the floor on which he was working fell on him.  The Court clarified its prior holding in Misseritti v. Mark IV Constr. Co., 86 N.Y.2d 35, 657 N.E.2d 1318 (NY 1995), by stating that Labor Law § 240(1), a scaffold law, could be invoked even if the injury was caused by an object on ground level.  In so doing, the Court explained that in order to state a claim under the statute, the plaintiff has to prove both that the injury was caused by the effect of gravity and that use of the protective equipment listed in the statute could have prevented the injury from occurring.  In this case, though the Court determined that the injuries caused by the poles falling were caused by the effect of gravity, summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff worker was precluded because an issue of fact remained as to whether the equipment prescribed by the statute could have prevented the injury from occurring.

In addition, Plaintiff brought a claim under 12 NYCRR 23-6.3(b)(3), a regulation promulgated under New York Labor Law § 241(6), which provides that “walls, chimneys and other parts of any building or other structure shall not be left unguarded in such condition that such parts may fall, collapse or be weakened by wind pressure or vibration.”  The Court found that Defendant could be liable despite the fact that neither wind pressure nor vibration contributed to the poles falling.  The Court reasoned that the wind pressure and vibration clause only attached to the words “be weakened” and not to the clauses “fall” and “collapse.”

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