LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Nussin Shmuel Fogel | Oct 21, 2010

New York Labor Law Protection of Workers Injured at a Construction Site Accident

There are three important provisions in the New York Labor Law, which competent personal injury lawyers invoke when bringing lawsuits on behalf of workers injured on a construction site. These sections of the Labor Law are 200, 240(1) and 241(6). These laws were enacted by the state legislature expressly for the protection of construction workers. Generally speaking, under these sections of the New York Labor Law, a building owner and general contractor can be held fully responsible for an injured worker’s accident and the injuries sustained in that accident even though their actions did not directly cause the accident.

The legislature understood when it enacted these laws that the burden of locating the responsible party and proving a case would be extremely difficult for the injured worker. These laws provide that as long as the injured worker can demonstrate that the accident was caused by a violation of one of these sections of the Labor Law, the injured worker will not have the burden of showing who caused the accident. The building and/or property owner will be held fully responsible for the worker’s injuries sustained in the accident.

Section 200 of the New York Labor Law is utilized when an owner of a building directly controls and supervises the work being performed at the premises. This section of the Labor Law is really nothing more than the codification of common law negligence principles, which would ordinarily govern construction site accidents.

Section 240(1) of the Labor Law provides protection for injured workers from elevation related risks. In other words, if there is a height differential involved in the mechanics of the accident, the injured worker can invoke the power of Section 240(1) of New York Labor Law. These kinds of accidents can include an injured worker’s fall due to a ladder or scaffold collapse; a fall between floors due to the collapse of a temporary floor or through a space left open in an upper floor to eliminate or dispose of debris and garbage; the failure to secure material on an upper floor which falls either to the ground or a lower floor and injures a worker; construction material that falls onto a worker below while being hoisted from a height; a building façade that falls off the side of a building and injures a worker below; or equipment such as parts of a scaffold or a pulley system which becomes dislodged from an upper floor and falls onto a worker below. Section 240(1) states that contractors and owners except for the owners of one and two-family dwelling who merely contract for and not necessarily direct or control the work being performed whether in the construction, demolition, repair, alteration, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure must furnish certain safety devices such as scaffolds, hoists, stays, pulleys, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, braces, irons, ropes and other devices which must be constructed, placed and operated in such a manner to afford proper protection to the construction worker. An injured worker under this section of the Labor Law needs to show only that there was a failure of the safety equipment previously listed or that he fell from a height, or struck by equipment or material that was on a higher floor. These types of accidents constitute violations of New York Labor Law Section 240(1) and the building owner and/or general contractor will be held responsible for the accident. This section of the Labor Law is so powerful that even if the building owner and general contractor can show that it was partially the worker’s fault for the happening of the accident, the building owner and general contractor will still be held solely responsible for the accident. The only defense that a building owner or general contractor can raise is that the injured worker caused his own accident entirely without anyone else contributing to it. If the injured worker can demonstrate that a violation of this section of the Labor Law caused his accident, the Court will rule as a matter of law that the building owner and general contractor are to be held fully responsible for the accident. The only issues that will remain for the injured worker to prove are the extent and value of the injuries sustained in the accident.

Section 241(6) pertains to other kinds of construction accidents, which are not height-related. For the Court to hold the building owner and general contractor responsible for these kinds of accidents, the injured worker must show there was a violation of Rule 23 of the Industrial Code. Rule 23 of the Industrial Code is part of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations. These rules pertain to construction, demolition and excavation operations. Each operation has its own section with specific rules and guidelines as to how these operations are to be performed; the type of equipment that must be used; and how the construction site is to be protected and secured. The most significant difference between 241(6) and 240(1) of the New York Labor Law is that with 241(6), the building owner and general contractor can reduce or lessen their responsibility by showing that the actions of the injured worker also contributed to the accident. As stated previously, under Section 240(1), the building owner and general contractor are not able escape full responsibility for an accident by showing that the injured worker’s actions also shared in the happening of the accident.

If a worker is injured at a construction site and requires medical attention, and/or loses time from work, he has the right to file a claim with his employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company. Workers’ compensation insurance provides benefits to the injured worker for the payment of health-related expenses as well as reimbursement of lost wages. If the employer refuses to file a claim for the injured worker or if the employer failed to obtain workers’ compensation insurance, the injured worker would be well advised to seek out a competent and experienced attorney who specializes in workers’ compensation law. This will insure that the worker will get all the benefits that he or she is entitled to. There will not be any cost to the injured to obtain these benefits because the attorney fees will be paid by the workers’ compensation insurance company.

The importance of seeking out a competent and experienced personal injury attorney cannot be stressed enough, if you, family member or friend has been involved in a construction site accident or while on the job. These lawsuits many times involve complex issues of law and require knowledge, experience and skill to prosecute successfully. Every case is must be investigated fully, leaving no stone unturned. If the case is well prepared, you not be at the mercy of the insurance company. This enables the attorney to prosecute your case and negotiate a settlement from a position of strength and not from weakness. But more than that, you should seek out an attorney who understands that he or she represents a person, not just a client, who needs a place to turn to for help and guidance from the very moment the accident occurs, whether with regard to medical issues, lost income or out-of-pocket expenses. Of course, success is measured by the monetary outcome achieved for the client but also by the help, guidance and assistance the client received from the time the accident occurred until the case was ultimately settled.

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