New York’s Special Construction Injury Liability Rules

by JESSE MINC, NEW YORK PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER on May 4, 2018

Workers in the construction trades are exposed to a litany of serious dangers that can cause serious personal injuries and leave them permanently disabled from working and unable to support their families.  From falls through open holes to trip and fall accidents due to the presence of scattered debris, construction workers must be ever vigilant and aware of potential hazards on the job if they are to avoid serious personal injuries.  Although job site safety should be of paramount concern to the powers that be (i.e., to the owner of a job site, as well as the general contractor or construction manager overseeing the work) on all construction job sites, unfortunately, worker safety is not always made a top priority to the serious detriment and harm of the tradesmen.

Try as they might, individual construction workers are not usually in the best position to ensure job site safety for themselves, let alone to protect all of the other workers on the job site from suffering serious personal injuries in construction accidents.  As any experienced tradesman will tell you, those who are in the best position to ensure that proper job site safety practices are put in place to protect the workers and avoid construction accidents are the owners, general contractors and construction managers (i.e., management) because they have the authority and resources to provide workers with the necessary safety equipment and training required to keep workers safe on the job.

In recognition of this reality, New York State has, for many decades, maintained a set of statutes (the legal term of art for a “law”) known collectively as the New York Labor Law which places the onus for maintaining a safe environment on construction job sites squarely upon the shoulders of the owners, general contractors and construction managers on New York job sites.  This means that, in many cases, if a construction worker suffers personal injuries on a job site due to a serious safety failure, the owner, general contractor and construction manager can be held legally responsible to compensate the injured worker.  This is true even if the owner, general contractor or construction manager did not actually participate in or oversee the specific task being performed by the injured worker when a particular accident occurred.

The New York Labor Law is very different from the laws of almost every other state in that it does not require proof of any active negligence on the part of the owner, general contractor or construction manager, but simply requires proof of a violation of one of the provisions of the New York Labor Law to allow an injured worker to hold management responsible for his or her personal injuries suffered on the job.  These laws provide extraordinary protections and rights to compensation to New York’s tradesmen who suffer personal injuries in construction accidents that are not available anywhere outside of New York.  To illustrate the power of these laws, consider the following examples of personal injury accidents occurring on construction sites to see how the outcome differs based upon whether the law of states other than New York, or the New York Labor Law, is applied.

Imagine that a steel laborer is working at ground level on a construction site stacking rebar (large steel bars used to reinforce concrete walls and floor slabs).  Next to his work area is a large hole in the ground, which is used as a chute through which concrete is poured down into the foundation below.  The hole is covered by a piece of plywood to prevent workers from stepping into or falling through the hole.  A subcontractor (the concrete contractor) had dug the hole for the concrete chute, maintained the concrete chute itself, and had placed the piece of plywood covering the hole without the involvement of any other contractors or others on the job site.  The piece of plywood selected for use as a safety device, however, is defective and does not effectively serve its intended safety purpose because it cannot support the weight of even a single worker standing on top of it.  As the worker is performing his work, he steps onto the plywood over the hole; the plywood breaks, and the worker falls through the plywood and through the hole down into the foundation below, suffering serious personal injuries.

Under the law of states other than New York, the injured worker would have to demonstrate that the owner, general contractor, and subcontractor responsible for placing the defective piece of plywood and otherwise maintaining the concrete chute had “notice” of the dangerous nature of the plywood in order to hold them legally responsible for his personal injuries.  The legal concept of “notice” in personal injury lawsuits requires proof that a defendant was either actually aware of a dangerous defect (a species of notice called “actual notice”), or that the defective nature of the plywood had been apparent for a sufficient amount of time and to a sufficient degree that had an inspection been performed the danger could have been recognized and averted (a species of notice known as “constructive notice”).  Furthermore, because the owner and general contractor were not primarily responsible for maintaining the concrete chute and the defective piece of plywood, it is likely that, under the law of states other than New York, the owner and general contractor would escape liability.  If the injured worker cannot prove both a duty of care (i.e., a responsibility for safety under a particular circumstances) as well as notice, the injured worker will likely not be successful in his or her personal injury lawsuit under these facts.

Under the New York Labor Law, the legal analysis is very different, and the likelihood of the injured worker obtaining compensation is much higher.  Specifically, under Section 240(1) of the New York Labor Law, if a construction worker suffers a personal injury due to the application of the force of gravity (e.g., by falling through a defective plywood plank into a hole), if the injured worker can prove that a safety device that was provided to prevent the personal injury failed, or a safety device that would have prevented the personal injury was not provided, the injured worker can obtain compensation from the owners, general contractors and construction managers of the job site.  Section 240(1) of the New York Labor Law does not require that the injured worker prove “notice” at all, nor does the fact that a subcontractor was primarily responsible for maintaining the concrete chute or placing the defective piece of plywood over the hole mitigate liability for the owner, general contractor and construction manager.  So long as the injured worker can prove that the plywood was defective and that he or she fell through it because it was defective (i.e., because it broke under his or her weight), the injured worker can recover the full value of his or her personal injuries in a construction accident lawsuit under the New York Labor Law.

To learn more about how the laws of the State of New York can be used to obtain compensation in personal injury lawsuits involving construction accidents, you can visit www.personalinjurylawyersbronx.com.

JESSE MINC, NEW YORK PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER
Jesse Minc, the author of this piece, is a personal injury lawyer and medical malpractice lawyer representing injured accident victims in New York City. He has made a career of helping the injured obtain just compensation for their injuries, and has been recognized by clients and other attorneys as an aggressive, zealous and skillful advocate for the injured. You can contact him directly at (718) 354-8000, or visit his website at www.personalinjurylawyersbronx.com, to discuss any personal injury or medical malpractice issues that you or a family member may have. Jesse Minc offers free consultations and does not charge a legal fee or any expenses to any prospective clients unless he accepts their case and wins their case, whether by settlement or obtaining a judgment after a verdict at trial.
JESSE MINC, NEW YORK PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER

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