The New York State Supreme Court, Kings County recently granted summary judgment to Harris Beach’s contractor client, where a plaintiff alleged he fell from a ladder while working for the contractor. In pertinent part, the Court noted that Harris Beach correctly contended that its client’s contractual indemnification obligations were dependent upon a finding of negligence, which the record did not support.

The critical allegations against the contractor came from the building owner defendant that commenced a third-party action against Harris Beach’s client. The owner alleged causes of action for common law indemnification and contribution, contractual indemnification, and breach of contract for failure to procure insurance.

Harris Beach demonstrated through the plaintiff’s disclosures, medical evidence, and deposition testimony that the plaintiff did not sustain a “grave injury” as defined by Workers’ Compensation Law § 11. Generally, unless an employee sustains a grave injury, the employee cannot successfully sue an employer. In turn, other parties cannot recover from the employer for common law indemnification or contribution. Harris Beach successfully asserted the law’s protections and obtained dismissal of those causes of action.

Moreover, Harris Beach illustrated the distinction between contracts that have “negligence triggers” and other broader contract terms contemplating liability. Some contracts require an express finding of negligence before liability can attach, whereas others require indemnification if an incident merely arose from an act or omission regardless of whether a person or company was negligent. The Court ruled that the contract in question required the owner to show that the contractor was negligent to recover, which the owner did not do. It also failed to support its claim that the contractor breached the contract with any admissible evidence, thereby requiring denial of the owner’s summary judgment motion.

This decision underscores the importance of understanding and using the express protections the law affords to guide motion practice and overall strategy. It also reiterates the importance of the doctrine of completeness and ensuring that parties consider all contract terms, and not mere snippets or excerpts, to discern obligations and rights.

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.