CONSTRUCTION WORKER GETS NEW YORK LABOR LAW SUMMARY JUDGMENT FOR "FALLING OBJECT" INJURY AT DEBRIS CHUTE

Court: Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, New York

Case: Henningham v. Highbridge Community Housing Development Fund Corp.

Date: Jan. 19, 2012

From: New York attorney Gary E. Rosenberg (personal injury and accident attorney and lawyer; serving Queens; Queens injury lawyer)

Comment: Accident victim was working at construction. He was injured by a falling object when he was sent to clear a plastic debris chute. The court says there was no showing that he was offered safety devices, and grants summary judgment in his favor and against the defense under New York's Labor Law.

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RELATED POSTS:

SUMMARY JUDGMENT DENIED IN LABOR LAW CONSTRUCTION ACCIDENT; PLAINTIFF DIDN'T KNOW WHERE FALLING BUCKET CAME FROM(Posted by Queens injury lawyer Gary E. Rosenberg on Oct 26, 2011)

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Order, Supreme Court, Bronx County (Norma Ruiz, J.), entered February 9, 2011, which, insofar as appealed from as limited by the briefs, granted plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on liability under Labor Law Sec. 240(1) as against defendant Highbridge Community Housing Development Fund Corporation, and denied Highbridge's cross motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint as against it, unanimously modified, on the law, and upon a search of the record, plaintiff's motion granted as against the remaining defendants, and otherwise affirmed, without costs.

Plaintiff and his coworkers were dropping construction debris, such as broken cinder blocks, from the roof of a six‑ or seven‑story building into a hard plastic chute in front of the building. When it became clear that the chute was clogged, plaintiff went down to the second floor, leaned slightly outside the window frame, and unclogged the chute by poking the debris. Shortly after telling his coworkers that the chute was clear, plaintiff was struck on the back of the head by a cinder block. He testified that he was facing the chute and still leaning forward slightly when he was struck.

Contrary to Highbridge's claim, Labor Law Sec. 240(1) applies to plaintiff's accident (see La Veglia v. St. Francis Hosp., 78 A.D.3d 1123, 1127 [2010] ). " '[F]alling object' liability under Labor Law Sec. 240(1) is not limited to cases in which the falling object is in the process of being hoisted or secured" (Quattrocchi v. F.J. Sciame Constr. Corp., 11 N.Y.3d 757, 758-759 [2008]).

The motion court properly disregarded the affidavit by defendants' mechanical engineer since the expert's opinion was speculative and unsupported by any evidence (Diaz v. New York Downtown Hosp., 99 N.Y.2d 542, 544 [2002]).

Even if the court should not have disregarded the affidavit by plaintiff's fellow employee, who claimed to have witnessed the accident and stated that plaintiff had placed his head and upper body inside the chute, partial summary judgment was correctly granted to plaintiff, because defendants failed to raise an issue of fact whether plaintiff had an adequate safety device available (see e.g. Auriemma v. Biltmore Theatre, LLC, 82 A.D.3d 1, 10 [2011]). If the debris chute had been functioning properly, it would not have become clogged, plaintiff would not have been sent to unclog it, and he would not have been injured. Since plaintiff's accident was caused, at least in part, by defendants' failure to provide an adequate safety device, plaintiff's alleged act of placing his head and upper body inside the chute could not have been the sole proximate cause of the accident (see Cevallos v. Morning Dun Realty, Corp., 78 A.D.3d 547, 548 [2010]).

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Since we are affirming the grant of partial summary judgment to plaintiff on his Labor Law Sec. 240(1) claim, we need not address his negligence and Labor Law Sec. 241(6) claims (see e.g. Auriemma, 82 A.D.3d at 12, 917 N.Y.S.2d 130). We note that the motion court granted defendants' cross motion for summary judgment dismissing the Labor Law Sec. 200 claim.

Although plaintiff has not cross‑appealed, we grant him summary judgment as to liability under Labor Law Sec. 240(1) against the defendants other than Highbridge (see Merritt Hill Vineyards v. Windy Hgts. Vineyard, 61 N.Y.2d 106, 110-111 [1984]). By its terms, Labor Law Sec. 240(1) applies to "[a]ll contractors and owners." In their answer, defendant Knickerbocker Construction, LLC admitted that it was the general contractor, and defendant Atlantic Development Group, LLC admitted that it owned the building where plaintiff's accident took place. Defendant Kensington Heights Associates, L.P. admitted that it leased the land where the accident occurred from Highbridge (the owner of the land); the lease between Highbridge and Kensington and the deposition testimony of a Highbridge representative show that Kensington had the right and authority to control the work site and therefore may be held liable under Labor Law Sec. 240(1) (see Zaher v. Shopwell, Inc., 18 A.D.3d 339, 339-340 [2005]).