New York Labor Law 240(1) - Interpretation

Labor Law 240(1), known as the Scaffold Law, imposes a duty upon all contractors and owners and their agents "in the erection, demolition, repairing . . . or pointing of a building or structure" to "furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders . . . and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection to a person so employed." The purpose of the Scaffold Law is to "protect workers by placing ultimate responsibility for safety practices at building construction jobs where such responsibility actually belongs, on the owner and general contractor, instead of on workers, who are scarcely in a position to protect themselves from accident" (Zimmer v. Chemung County Performing Arts, 65 NY2d 513, 520, 482 N.E.2d 898, 493 N.Y.S.2d 102 [1985], rearg denied 65 NY2d 1054, 484 N.E.2d 1055, 494 N.Y.S.2d 1033 [1985]. Thus, Labor Law 240(1) imposes absolute liability on owners, contractors, and their agents for any breach of the statutory duty which proximately causes an injury (Jock v. Fien, 80 NY2d 965, 967, 605 N.E.2d 365, 590 N.Y.S.2d 878 [1992]; Rocovich v. Consolidated Edison Co., 78 NY2d 509, 513, 583 N.E.2d 932, 577 N.Y.S.2d 219 [1991]). To prevail under Labor Law 240(1), the plaintiff must establish the following two elements: (1) a violation of the statute, i.e., that the owner or general contractor failed to provide adequate safety devices; and (2) that the statutory violation was a proximate cause of the injuries (Blake v. Neighborhood Hous. Servs. of N. Y. City, 1 NY3d 280, 289, 803 N.E.2d 757, 771 N.Y.S.2d 484 [2003]). Labor Law 240(1) applies to "'extraordinary elevation risks,'" and not the "'usual and ordinary dangers of a construction site'" (Ortiz v. Varsity Holdings, LLC, 18 NY3d 335, 339, 960 N.E.2d 948, 937 N.Y.S.2d 157 [2011], quoting Rodriguez v. Margaret Tietz Ctr. for Nursing Care, 84 NY2d 841, 843, 640 N.E.2d 1134, 616 N.Y.S.2d 900 [1994]). "'Labor Law 240(1) was designed to prevent those types of accident in which the scaffold, hoist, stay, ladder or other protective device proved inadequate to shield the injured worker from harm directly flowing from the application of the force of gravity to an object orperson'" (Runner v. New York Stock Exch., Inc., 13 NY3d 599, 604, 922 N.E.2d 865, 895 N.Y.S.2d 279 [2009], quoting Ross v. Curtis-Palmer Hydro-Elec. Co., 81 NY2d 494, 501, 618 N.E.2d 82, 601 N.Y.S.2d 49 [1993]). Labor Law 240(1) requires that safety devices be "so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection" to a worker (Labor Law 240[1]). In John v. Baharestani (281 AD2d 114, 118, 721 N.Y.S.2d 625 [1st Dept 2001]), the First Department wrote that: Under plaintiff's account, he walked onto a makeshift scaffold three stories high at a construction site to unload bricks from a forklift when he fell 30 feet to the ground below. While he was not sure whether the wooden plank broke or moved, it is undisputed that there were no safety devices or belts on either the plank or the pallet. His proof thus shows that the makeshift scaffold failed to provide proper protection in violation of Labor Law 240(1).