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November 2011 Labor Law Update

October 25, 2011 - The New York State Court of Appeals in Wilinski v 334 East 92nd Housing Development continued its recent expansion of Labor Law § 240(1).  Labor Law § 240(1) provides substantial rights to construction and oil and gas workers in New York State.  Commonly referred to as the "scaffolding" law it was initially interpreted to provide protection to workers who were injured when they fell from a height.    In Narducci v Manhasset Bay Associates, 96 NY2d 259, 727 NYS2d 37 [2001] the Court affirmed that the statute applied not only to falling workers but falling objects as well.  Thus, a worker struck by a falling object due to the lack of a safeguard would also be entitled to the extraordinary protections of the Labor Law.  In 2009, the Court in Runner v New York Stock Exchange, 13 NY3d 599, 895 NYS2d 279 went even further holding that "liability is not limited to cases in which the falling object was in the process of being hoisted or secured."  Instead "the single decisive question is whether plaintiff's injuries were the direct consequence of a failure to provide adequate protection against a risk arising from a physically significant elevation differential."    

In Wilinski, the Court made clear that the core premise of the Labor Law § 240(1) is: "that a defendant's failure to provide workers with adequate protection from reasonably preventable, gravity-related accidents will result in liability."  Specifically, in Wilinski, the Court clarified that a worker is not precluded from recovering under the Labor Law where he sustains an injury caused by a falling object whose base stands at the same level as the worker.  After the Court's holding in Misseritti v. Mark IV Constr. Co., 86 NY2d 487, 634 NYS2d 35 [1995], some courts had held that a worker could not recover if the object that fell on them was at the same level as the worker.  In fact in Misseriti, the Court had held that a worker was not able to recover under the Labor Law where a completed fire wall had fallen on him. 

Taken together with the Runner decision it appears clear that the Court is expanding the protections provided under the Labor Law to effectuate its purpose of protecting workmen.  While the Court remanded the case for further proceedings to determine whether the plaintiff's injuries were proximately caused by the lack of a safety device, it is clear that another defense to Labor Law 240(1) has been lost by the insurance companies.  With the expansion of oil and gas exploration in New York State it is critical that attorneys and workmen keep in mind that these protections should also apply to them.  Our firm has successfully argued on numerous cases that the protections of the Labor Law do apply to the construction of oil and gas wells and please feel free to call with any questions.  To read the entire opinion of the Wilinksi case, click here.

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