Absolute Liability of NY Labor Law for Owners and General Contractors Only

In Giovaniello v. E.W. Howell, Co., LLC, the Second Department provided instruction as to those parties that can be held liable under the dreaded New York Labor Law. Under Labor Law 240 and 241(6), owners, general contractors, and their agents are absolutely liable for violations of those statutes. Prime contractors and subcontractors, on the other hand, will only be liable in limited circumstances. The Giovaniello court clarified those circumstances.

Fratello, one of many prime contractors on the site, moved to dismiss plaintiff’s Labor law 240 and 241(6) causes of action, because it was it did not qualify as an owner, general contractor, or agent. Fratello argued that, as a prima contractor which did not have a contract with plaintiff’s employer, it could only be liable if he was delegated the authority to oversee and control the activities of the injured worker. The Supreme Court and Second Department agreed with Fratello and dismissed the complaint against it.

Two subcontractors also moved for summary judgment dismissing the Labor Law claims, including the § 200 claim. In granting their motions, the court found that liability under §§ 200, 240, and 241(6) cannot be assessed against a subcontractor who did not control the work that caused the plaintiff’s accident.

The court’s holding on Labor Law § 200 as it pertained to the subcontractors is important. Often times, counsel representing subcontractors treat the § 200 and common-law negligence claim identically. They conflate the § 200 and common-law negligence claims because these two claims, as applied to general contractors and owners, are the same. But when it comes to subcontractors, they are not, as demonstrated by Giovaniello. Thus, to obtain dismissal of a § 200 claim against a subcontractor, it must simply demonstrate that it did not control the injury-producing work.

Special thanks to Gabriel Darwick for his contribution.

For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at dricci@wcmlaw.com