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New York’s Labor Law or common law negligence

A case was filed raising the issue of whether the collapse of forms used for framing poured concrete foundations, stacked on top of a flatbed truck that killed a 40-year old man falls within the provisions of the New York City’s Labor Law or common law negligence.

One day in March of 2006, the man was fatally injured while standing on a flatbed truck when a bundle of concrete forms lying on the floor of the truck fell on him, causing him to fall to the ground below. The decedent was employed by a subcontractor to the owner of the premises where the accident happened. The subcontractor was to perform demolition, excavation, and foundation work in the construction of house.

The project where the demolition was done called for the construction of several three-family and two-family homes. The decedent had been working on the site loading concrete forms onto a flatbed truck. The forms were used in pouring the concrete foundation and were then removed. The forms were then stacked in groups of fifteen, bound together, and lifted by a Caterpillar 320 machine out of the foundation hole and onto the flatbed truck. There were six bundles of concrete forms that had to be lifted. Each bundle contained 15 concrete forms that were tied with two metal straps on each side. The truck accident occurred with the fourth bundle.

The Westchester contractor denied liability to the decedent under the Labor Law asserting that it was not an “owner,” “contractor,” or “agent” of the owner or general contractor at the time of the accident. Since it was undisputed that the contractor was the owner nor general contractor on the subject construction project, the only issue remaining is whether it was a statutory agent of the owner or general contractor.

The court explained that an entity is deemed a contractor within the meaning of Labor Law if it had the power to enforce safety standards and choose responsible subcontractors. Therefore, to impose liability, the defendant must have the authority to control the activity bringing about the injury so as to enable it to avoid or correct the unsafe condition. To recover under Labor Law, a plaintiff must establish the violation of an Industrial Code provision, which sets forth specific, applicable safety standards, in connection with construction, demolition, or excavation work.

An employee of the contractor testified that the owner of the building hired all of the subcontractors to perform work on the subject construction project, and the contractor did not exercise any supervision or control over the work performed by the decedent and had no authority to do so. The court also found that there was no violation of any Industrial Code provision by the subcontractor because court testimonies showed that the decedent was not working in an area that is considered hazardous.

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