Tenants Can Be Liable Under NY Scaffold Law

The Labor Law in New York is the bane of the existence of many landowners and contractors involved in construction projects based, in part, on the strict liability imposed by section 240 when workers are involved with elevation related risks.

By its terms, it applies to owners and contractors and their agents.  But there is another group that needs to take certain care as well:  tenants.

In Morato-Rodriguez v Riva Constr. Group, Inc., the plaintiff was injured when he fell from a ladder while working.  One of the defendants, the tenant — not the owner — of the property where the accident occurred, moved for summary judgment on the basis that Labor Law 240 only applied to owners.  The trial court denied the tenant’s motion.

On appeal, the First Department agreed with the trial court and affirmed, as the status of being a “tenant” does not automatically shield a party from liability under Labor Law 240.   Where the tenant “selected the contractor for the work and substantially directed and controlled it,” and was otherwise actively engaged in the work, the tenant falls under the tentacles of Labor Law 240.   As such, insurers ought to keep that point in mind when deciding whether (or at what price) to insure tenants who are actively engaged in New York construction projects.

Thanks to Jung Lee for his contribution to this post.  Please write to Mike Bono for more information.