As CGL insurers are well aware, New York’s Labor Law, originally designed to protect construction workers from unsafe practices, often ensnares small property owners with its strict liability conditions. Labor Law § 241(6) imposes a nondelegable duty upon “owners,” “contractors” and their “agent” involved in construction, excavation, or demolition work to provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety for workers and to comply with the specific safety rules and regulations promulgated by the Commissioner of the Department of Labor.
Recently, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that condominiums generally cannot be found liable under New York Labor Law § 241(6). In Guryev v. Tomchinsky, the plaintiff suffered an eye injury while working in the defendants’ condominium unit. Guryev sued the condominium under Labor Law, arguing that the condominium was an “owner” of the unit because it owned the land underneath the building. In addition, the condominium entered into an alteration agreement with the Tomchinskys in which the condominium retained many important rights and control over how the work would be performed and contractor choice. Plaintiff further argued that co-operatives are deemed to be “owners” and condominiums should also be deemed owners for public policy reasons.
The Court of Appeals, over the dissent of its Chief Judge, ruled in favor of the condominium because the condominium, unlike a co-op, did not hold title to the actual unit in which the injury occurred. Therefore, the condominium could not be an “owner” under Labor Law § 241(6). In addition, the alteration agreement with the Tomachinskys simply reflected the condominium’s interest in making sure that the renovations would protect the building and other units and did not grant the condominium the prerogative to ensure that the contractor was using adequate safety precautions.