New York’s Highest Court Rules in Favor of Injured Construction Worker

New York’s Labor Law section 240 is a special New York statute aimed at compensating construction workers, and their families, who are injured or killed when they fall or when objects fall on them during construction work (and in some other circumstances as well). This law allows all New York workers, which obviously includes our local construction workers in Syracuse and in the surrounding central New York area, to sue for their lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and wrongful death, where the construction site did not provide required protection from workers falling or from objects falling on workers.

In what is perhaps a watershed case, New York’s highest Court, the New York State Court of Appeals, has ruled that this statute protects construction workers not only when they “fall” and when something “falls” on them, but also in other circumstances where the “effects of gravity” injure or kill a construction worker, and a safety device could have been used to prevent the injury.

In Runner v. New York Stock Exchange, the injured worker was seriously and permanently maimed in both of his hands when he and some co-workers attempted to move an 800-pound reel of wire down a set of about four stairs. To prevent the reel from rolling out-of-control down the stairs, the workers had tied a rope to the reel and then held onto the rope as the reel descended the stairs. This method proved disastrous; as the reel descended, it pulled the worker toward a metal bar to which one end of the rope was tied. The injured worker’s hands were severely injured as they jammed against the metal bar. Experts testified at trial that a pulley or hoist could have been used to safely roll the reel down the stairs. The jury found against the injured worker, but his construction accident lawyer appealed to the Court of Appeals, which found that this was the wrong result. Even though nothing fell on the worker, and he did not “fall” from a height, his injuries were caused by a violation of Labor Law section 240 because that statute is meant to protect workers against the effects of gravity generally on a construction site, not just “falls”.

What does this mean for New York construction workers? It means more protection. It means that construction workers will be able to sue the owners of construction sites, the general contractors, and others, not only when objects fall on them, or they fall from a height, but also in other circumstance where the “effects of gravity” cause the injury, and some safety device could have been used to prevent the injury. It means general contractors, owners of construction sites, and others responsible for worker safety on construction sites, must make their worksites even safer for New York’s construction workers.

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