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Falling debris causes major injuries to worker

On July 2, 1998, the Supreme Court Appellate Division First Department of New York was called upon to decide the issues in a case possibly involving a commercial truck accident. On the date in question, an employee of a property management company was working in a 40 story building that was under construction. It was his responsibility to prepare the stock room and make sure that the tools required to operate the building were at hand. One of his duties was to read the water meters in the building. While he was walking along a sidewalk near the loading dock where the construction deliveries were made, a net that is suspended over this walkway to catch falling debris from the upper stories fell on him causing substantial physical injury.

There are numerous questions of fact as it regards the incidents in this case. Some of the witnesses claim that the accident was caused when a truck delivering glass to the site was backing along the side near where the net attaches to the building. They contend that a handle sticking up from the top of the truck snagged the netting and pulled the net down. Other witnesses state that the company that was hired to keep the debris removed from the net so that the net would not get weighted down failed in their duty to keep the net clean and the weight from debris piled up in the net caused the net to fall. Another theory is that the net fell frequently and was faulty.

The court was concerned with several of these issues. In particular they felt that the fact that the crank handles on the truck were enmeshed in the net following the accident did not demonstrate that the handles had snagged the net. They stated that it was not surprising that the crank handles should be enmeshed in a net that had fallen on the truck covering it.

The injured Manhattan property manager had filed action based on Labor Law § 240 (1) and Labor Law § 241 (6). The Court found that since Labor Law §240 (1) dealt with injuries to construction employees only, and that since the injured party in this case, was a property manager and not a construction worker that Labor Law §240 did not apply in this case. However Labor Law § 241 (6) would.

As it regards Labor Law § 240 (1) was “not designed to encompass the type of routine maintenance work performed * * * which is ‘far removed from the risks associated with the construction or demolition of a building'” (Manente v. Ropost, Inc., 136 A.D.2d 681, 682, 524 N.Y.S.2d 96). The injured party had produced several precedent cases in which to show an applicability of his accident under Labor Law §240(1). However, the court duly noted that some of the cases that the injured party had used as precedent, actually concerned Labor Law 241 (6) and not Labor Law § 240 (1). It is the responsibility of the injured party in cases such as this one to prove that he meets the elements of the Labor Laws in order to invoke their protections. “To invoke the protections of Labor Law §§ 200, 240(1) and 241(6), the injured party ‘must demonstrate that he was both permitted or suffered to work on a building or structure and that he was hired by someone, be it owner, contractor or their agent.'” (See, Gibson v. Worthington Div.–McGraw-Edison Co., supra.) Because the record in this case clearly shows that the property manager was not employed or involved in construction work, it limits the Labor Laws that are applicable in this case. His activities on any work day and certainly on the work day in question were maintenance and operational by definition. These activities as remarked in Phillips v. City of New York, supra 228 A.D. 2d 570 held that Labor Law § 240(1) was not designed to encompass routine maintenance work “which is ‘far removed from the risks associated with the construction or demolition of a building’ and that takes place ‘in a non-construction, non-renovation context'” in light of these facts, the injured worker’s Labor Law § 240 (1) claim was dismissed. The Justices also state that his Labor Law 241 (6) claim should be dismissed for the same reason in that Labor Law § 200 is the most appropriate law to apply to the safety issues at this work site. Labor Law § 200 discusses the common-law duty of an “owner or contractor to provide employees with a safe place to work, the application of which is not limited to construction work and does not exclude maintenance personnel, was properly sustained.” (See, e.g., Jock v. Fien, supra, 80 N.Y.2d at 967, 590 N.Y.S.2d 878, 605 N.E.2d 365.)

The issue as the cause of the accident falls in many forms. The most important problem in this case is that no one actually saw what caused the net to fall. All of the discussed theories have some form or another of merit which brings into discussion the liability of each party involved to one degree or another in the use of this net that caused the accident. Obviously, several workers knew that the net was not reliable, yet no one reported this problem up the chain of supervision. Therefore if the net was defective, it could not be replaced and the faulty nature of the net could not be documented.

The next theory discussed the fact that the company that was supposed to keep the debris out of the net was not doing a good job of ensuring that the net remained unburdened by the weight of debris. If in fact, it is proven that the amount of debris that was in the net at the time of the accident was excessive, then liability will fall with them. It is a similar story with the truck lever.

The court rules that there are enough questions of fact to preclude a summary judgment in this case except where it involves the modifications of the Labor Law Statutes that are invoked as previously stated.

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