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Construction Accident/New York Labor Law Liability

This construction worker was in the process removing concrete windowsills from a six-story building when the scaffold he was working on bent in the middle causing him to fall backward, injuring his neck and back. The scaffold in question was raised and lowered by motorized devices on each end, which were manned by two workers. Prior to the collapse of the scaffold, one of the scaffold motors malfunctioned (how about stopped working?) and the scaffold would not move on that end. The injured worker went over to the other side of the scaffold to assist his co-worker. He attempted to free the scaffold by kicking the wall to loosen or free the mechanism. Despite his efforts, the scaffold motor remained frozen. He then walked back, across the scaffold, approximately 35 feet, to get into his bucket on his end of the scaffold when the scaffold without any warning started to bend in the middle, causing the worker to fall backwards on his head, neck and back. The injured worker asked the Court to find the owner of the building strictly liable under the New York Labor Law §240(1) which provides that safety devices, such as a scaffold, must be erected in such a manner as to afford proper protection for the worker. The owner defended the motion by arguing that the worker had caused his own accident. In addition, as the injured worker had to loosen his safety line in order to walk across the scaffold to help his co-worker, the owner argued that had the safety line been tight as it should have been, the worker never would have fallen backward when the scaffold collapsed. Lastly, the building owner argued that the workers themselves placed the windowsills incorrectly on the scaffold, which is why the scaffold had collapsed in the middle. In response, we argued that our client was instructed by his supervisors to place the windowsills in the middle of the scaffold. We further argued that the kicking of the wall could not have contributed to the collapse of the scaffold in that the collapse took place after the injured worker had reached the other side of the scaffold. Furthermore, it was mere speculation that stacking the windowsills in the middle of the scaffold caused the accident because there was no proof from an expert or otherwise establishing that kicking the wall or the way the windowsills were stacked in any way contributed to the collapse of the scaffold. Lastly, we argued that the purpose of the safety line was to prevent the worker from falling to the ground in the event he had fallen off the scaffold. That in order to do his work, the safety line must be loose enough to afford the worker the flexibility and maneuverability to go about his work. The Court rejected all of the owner's arguments; found the owner responsible for the accident under the labor law and granted summary judgment in favor of the injured worker. This case settled just prior to jury selection. - Julien v. New Greenwich, Supreme Court, Kings County, Index No. 27360/06

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Law Offices of Nussin S. Fogel
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