In a recent decision from the New York State Supreme Court, Kings County, a judge dismissed all claims against a Harris Beach contractor client on a motion for summary judgment. The case involved a construction worker plaintiff who was injured while working on a home renovation project when a wall fell on his foot.  The plaintiff sued the homeowner and the contractor identified on the construction permit filed with the New York City Department of Buildings and asserted causes of action under New York Labor Law §§ 200, 240(1), and 241(6), and common law negligence. 

Through discovery and depositions, Harris Beach showed the contractor’s only involvement in the renovation project was the contractor’s identification as the superintendent on the construction permit. Discovery and depositions also showed that the contractor made a single visit to the premises to evaluate the project after the work began, but before plaintiff’s incident.  The contractor did not perform any work on the project, and did not supervise, direct, or control the work performed by the plaintiff, who was employed by a different company hired by the homeowners.  As such, the Court determined that the Harris Beach client did not owe a duty to the plaintiff, and dismissed all claims and cross-claims against it.

Labor Law §§ 200, 240, and 241 claims generally impose near-absolute liability on property owners, general contractors, and other contractors that control the work for injuries that occur during a construction project.  However, plaintiffs must first establish the contractor had the requisite control over plaintiff’s work or project safety to establish liability under New York Labor Laws.  Absent a written contract that lays out the contractor’s role, specifically regarding supervision and overall project safety, the courts will look to their conduct on-site.  When a contractor is not hired to oversee safety or supervise work performed by other companies, contractors are encouraged to stay within the confines of their own scope of work and defer to those that are specifically hired to supervise the work and control project safety.  A contractor may be liable if it undertakes such responsibility on its own initiative, even if they were not hired for this role.

This alert does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on specific matters.

Harris Beach has offices throughout New York State, including Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, New York City, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, Uniondale and White Plains, as well as New Haven, Connecticut and Newark, New Jersey.