Maritime Law Does Not Preempt State Safety Laws When The State Laws Do Not Unduly Interfere With Maritime Law

Durando v. City of New York, 963 N.Y.S.2d 670 (N.Y. App. Div. 2013)

In this case, the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, addressed the interaction of New York state construction law and federal maritime law in the context of a construction worker’s personal injury suit, and held that local regulations will not be preempted when they do not unduly interfere with a fundamental characteristic of maritime law or the free flow of maritime commerce.

Plaintiff Daniel Durando was working as a scaffolding installer on the deck of a ship when he was injured by a fall through an improperly covered opening in the deck.  He brought an action against the City of New York, who owned the shipyard, as well as the City’s lessee and sublessees.  The Second Department upheld the lower court’s summary judgment award to Durando as to liability against the City of New York.

Durando based his claim on New York Code Sections 240 (1) and 241 (6), which regulate scaffolding and construction site safety.  It was undisputed, however, that the case fell within federal maritime jurisdiction and the court therefore addressed whether federal law preempted the local regulations.  The Second Department concluded that it did not.  Relying in part on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Grant Smith-Porter Ship Co. v. Rohde, 257 U.S. 469 (2013), the Second Department reasoned that “[w]ith respect to maritime torts, a state ‘may modify or supplement the maritime law by creating liability which a court of admiralty will recognize and enforce when the state action is not hostile to the characteristic features of the maritime law or inconsistent with federal legislation.’”  Durando at 695 (internal citations omitted).  Therefore, because the local laws in question did not unduly interfere with federal law or maritime commerce, the federal maritime law did not preempt Durando’s claims and he could recover from the City of New York.

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