Court of Appeals Declines to Apply Labor Law 240(1) to Worker Who Fell From Ladder While Cleaning Product Employer Manufactured

In Dahar v. Holland Ladder & Manufacturing Company, 2012 WL 538245 (February 21, 2012), the plaintiff was injured when he fell from a ladder in a factory while cleaning a product manufactured by his employer. The Court of Appeals held that his activity was not protected by Labor Law § 240(1). The product in question was a steel “wall module” made by third party defendant West Metal Works, Inc. at its plant in Cheektowaga, New York. The module was at least seven feet high: West’s customer, defendant Bechtel National, Inc., was purchasing it for installation in a nuclear waste treatment plant in Richland, Washington. After the module was fabricated, it had to be cleaned before it was shipped to Washington. Plaintiff, a West employee, was engaged in that task, standing on a ladder provided by West, when, according to plaintiff, the ladder broke and he fell to the ground.

Plaintiff claimed that he was engaged in “cleaning” the wall module, which was a “structure”; that the ladder given him failed to provide “proper protection”; and that Bechtel and the Martins are subject to the liability imposed on “contractors and owners” by Labor Law § 240(1).

The court rejected the plaintiff’s contention that the product was a structure within the meaning of the statute. By its language, the protection of Labor Law § 240(1) is afforded only to workers “employed” in the “erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure”.

The court’s decision is important for plaintiff’s personal injury practitioners because it contains helpful language that should be cited in every motion, brief or legal writing involving a Labor Law § 240(1) claim. For example, the decision describes the broad protection the statute affords: “As we have long held, it imposes liability even on contractors and owners who had nothing to do with the plaintiff’s accident; and where a violation of the statute has caused injury, any fault by the plaintiff contributing to that injury is irrelevant”.

Further, the decision sets forth the history and purpose of the statute: “It is apparent from the text of Labor Law § 240(1), and its history confirms, that its central concern is the dangers that beset workers in the construction industry. The first version of the statute was enacted in 1885, in response “to wide-spread accounts of deaths and injuries in the construction trades” (Blake, 1 N.Y.3d at 285, 771 N.Y.S.2d 484, 803 N.E.2d 757). More recent legislative history explains that the purpose of the statute is to place “ultimate responsibility for safety practices at building construction jobs where such responsibility … belongs” (1969 N.Y. Legis Ann, at 407).”

Interestingly, the court noted that it seems that every case we have decided involving “cleaning” as used in Labor Law § 240(1), with a single exception, has involved cleaning the windows of a building. The exception involved the cleaning of a railroad car.

The personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims, including for workers injured at construction sites. For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. Contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas.

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