Court Upholds State’s Liability in Scaffolding Injury Case

Posted On: March 22nd, 2019

Construction worker on scaffolding

Albany Construction Accident Attorney on Recent Scaffold Law Case

On November 6, 2015, Agnaldo Dos Santos was performing sandblasting work on a temporary, suspended metal deck under the Patroon Island Bridge between Albany and Rensselaer when he backed into a hole in the scaffold, causing one leg to fall through to the middle of his thigh. The fall caused him to fracture his ankle and also strike his head on the bridge structure behind him. Santos, who was working for a subcontractor, sued the state of New York, which owns the bridge, for damages.

 

New York Labor Law Section 240, aka “The Scaffold Law”

 

The claimant commenced his action pursuant to Labor Law § 240 (1), known as The Scaffold Law, which says in part that “all contractors and owners and their agents … in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure shall furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices … placed and operated as to give proper protection to a person so employed.

After completion of the discovery phase, attorneys for the defendant moved for summary judgment dismissing the claim, and the claimant moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability under Labor Law § 240 (1). Court of Claims Judge Francis T. Collins granted the plaintiff’s motion, denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The state appealed the decision in appellate court, which concluded on February 28, 2019, “that the Court of Claims properly determined that claimant was not the sole proximate cause of the accident and, therefore, that claimant was entitled to partial summary judgment establishing defendant’s liability pursuant to Labor Law § 240 (1).”

 

Fall During Construction Work Included under Labor Law § 240

 

There was no dispute that Santos was injured while working at an elevation, and that he fell through an opening in the scaffold that was suspended from the bridge solely for a repainting project. Falls from heights like Santos’s are all to common in the construction industry and can cause lasting injuries and leave the worker unable to return to his or her job.

In establishing applicable law, the court wrote that “the opening presented an elevation-related risk, rather than a usual and ordinary danger of working on a construction site, because it was of sufficient size that claimant could have fallen entirely through to a lower level; therefore, Labor Law § 240 (1) applies to this accident because it was caused by a failure of the suspended metal deck—which was functioning as a scaffold—to provide adequate protection, even though claimant did not fall entirely through the opening.”

 

“Sole Proximate Cause” –A Contributing Factor to Establishing Liability

 

At issue was whether the defendant was the “sole proximate cause” of the fall because he failed to cover the hole before commencing work. Although a co-worker testified that there were boards available on the work site to cover any holes in the decking, the court held that “there is no evidence in the record that claimant received any instruction or directive that would establish that he knew that he was responsible for either covering any openings, or requesting that they be covered by coworkers, before beginning work. … Accordingly, we conclude that the Court of Claims properly determined that claimant was not the sole proximate cause of the accident and, therefore, that claimant was entitled to partial summary judgment establishing defendant’s liability.”

 

Dreyer Boyajian LaMarche Safranko is headquartered in Albany, New York, and represents clients in personal-injury and workplace-liability cases in state and federal courts throughout New York state. If you or someone you know has experienced a construction or industrial site accident, call us at (518) 463-7784 or contact us for a no-obligation consultation.

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Contact Dreyer Boyajian LaMarche Safranko for a no-obligation consultation, or call (518) 463-7784. We have law offices in Albany, Clifton Park, Saratoga Springs and Plattsburgh, NY and we are available to take your call 24 hours a day.

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Dreyer Boyajian LaMarche Safranko Law

Dreyer Boyajian LaMarche Safranko Law