New York Court Denies Plaintiff’s Motion in Case Involving Injured Drywaller Alleging Labor Law Violations

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Attorneys from the New York law office of Traub Eglin Lieberman Straus LLP recently defeated a plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. In the case, a drywall construction worker in Brooklyn fell from a ladder, later claiming damages against his employer. In court, TELS presented evidence that other safety equipment was present at the Brooklyn construction site that the drywall worker could have been using, but did not. After hearing the evidence, the court dismissed the Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, ruling that the Plaintiff may have been the sole proximate cause of the accident. The case now moves to the trial stage, but TELS' recent victory demonstrates that trial courts are starting to take a closer look at Labor Law cases after recent decisions by the New York Court of Appeals, and not granting summary judgment for plaintiffs simply because a construction worker fell from a ladder.

In a recent case argued before the Supreme Court of Kings County, TRAUB EGLIN LIEBERMAN STRAUS LLP (TELS) successfully defeated a plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. The case, involving a construction worker who fell from a ladder when working on drywall, demonstrates that trial courts are starting to take a closer look at Labor Law cases in light of the recent decisions by the Court of Appeals, and not granting plaintiffs summary judgment simply because an injured worker fell from a ladder.

The plaintiff in this case worked for a drywall company. While working on a project in Brooklyn, the Plaintiff was instructed by his supervisor to install sheet rock in an area with a 20 foot ceiling. To reach that area, the plaintiff setup an 8 foot Baker scaffold. He then placed a 10 foot wooden A-frame ladder on top of the platform in the closed position, leaning the ladder against the wall. Plaintiff climbed the ladder and was using a screw gun to attach a piece of sheet rock to the wall when the ladder slid out causing him to fall to the floor. The force of the fall caused the scaffold to topple onto him. His legs became entangled in the ladder, causing him to sustain serious injuries to his ankle and left knee. The Plaintiff has had multiple surgeries since the accident, and claims he can never work in the construction industry again.

After the accident, the Plaintiff commenced an action against the property owner asserting violation of New York State Labor Law §240(1), §241(6) and §200. The property owner then commenced a third-party action against the plaintiff's employer, the drywall company, seeking contractual indemnification.

Attorneys Robert M. Leff and Lisa J. Black of TELS were brought in to defend the drywall company. During the course of discovery, TELS attorneys developed evidence that there were multiple other safety devices available at the job site including ladders and stackable scaffolds all of which were in good working order and would have provided the plaintiff with the ability to reach the elevated workplace in a safe manner. The evidence also demonstrated that there was no defect in the scaffold or the ladder used by plaintiff.

At the close of discovery, the plaintiff moved for summary judgment on his Labor Law §240(1) claim arguing that he was not provided with proper protection against injury. TELS opposed the motion, arguing that the plaintiff was the “sole proximate cause” of the accident, and that he failed to utilize any of the other safety equipment that was available to him. In a cross-motion, TELS also sought dismissal of plaintiff’s Labor Law §241(6) and §200 causes of action based on the lack of evidence supporting those claims. Plaintiff responded he was not the sole cause of the accident, since his supervisor instructed him to place the ladder on top of the scaffold in that manner. In response to TELS' cross-motion, Plaintiff withdrew his Labor Law §241(6) and §200 causes of action.

The Court denied the plaintiff's motion pursuant to New York Labor Law §240(1), noting that the TELS' argument that there were other safety devices available for his use may support a jury finding that the plaintiff "may have been the sole proximate cause of the accident."

The Court also noted that the plaintiff testified that he observed his supervisor lock each of the scaffold’s four wheels, that the scaffold itself did not move, that no part of the ladder was broken after the accident, and that he was never instructed to refrain from using another piece of equipment on the job. As such, the Court ruled that a jury could conclude that the plaintiff was provided with a ladder that gave him proper protection as required by Labor Law §240(1).

As the claim now moves into the trial stage, this decision allows the defendants to argue plaintiff conduct to the jury. Had the plaintiff been granted summary judgment, as is frequently the case in Labor Law claims in New York, defendants would have been in the unfavorable position of arguing over damages only. TELS is hopeful that trial courts will continue to examine Labor Law cases with greater scrutiny and not simply grant summary judgment because the plaintiff fell.

The case involved was Aponte v. GTO Holding, LLC, et al. v. Precision Carpentry, et al. (Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Kings, Index Number 42959/02)

TELS congratulates Mr. Leff and Ms. Black for their success in defeating plaintiff’s motion in this Labor Law case. For more information on Mr. Leff, a partner with TELS, please visit:

http://www.tels.com/profiles/robertleff

And to learn more about Ms. Black, an associate, review her C.V. at:

http://www.tels.com/profiles/lisablack

ABOUT TELS

TRAUB EGLIN LIEBERMAN STRAUS LLP (TELS) has achieved a national reputation for excellence in legal representation. Our philosophy is to provide quality legal representation in an expeditious and efficient manner. Our emphasis on client service, as well as our reputation in the legal community, has served our clients and the firm well. TELS has been recognized by many, including Martindale-Hubbell, for outstanding legal ability and ethical standards. For more information, visit us online at http://www.tels.com.

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Scott Carr
JAVELIN WEB AND MEDIA
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