The New York Labor Law imposes a non-delegable duty and absolute liability on owners and general contractors for injuries proximately caused by the failure to provide appropriate safety devices to workers who are subject to elevation-related risks. To escape liability under this statute, defendants have been known to make some novel arguments. For example, in Ren v. Gioia St. Marks the plaintiff was injured while working on a kitchen renovation project. During the project, he crouched down on a top of a ventilator, which he had attached to a ceiling beam, in an attempt to move it. Unfortunately, the ventilator tipped over and the plaintiff sustained injuries.
In an attempt to establish that the plaintiff was provided with a safety device, the defendant argued that the ventilator itself was the safety device. But the First Department rejected this argument, and granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment. In doing so, the court reasoned that the ventilator was not a safety device designed to protect the plaintiff from elevation-related risks, but rather, was the object of the construction project itself.
This ruling is instructive for construction professionals because it shows that safety planning should take place before a project begins, not concocted out of thin air after the fact. Thanks to Michael Gauvin for his contribution to this post. Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.