NY Supreme (NY Cty.): Worker injured after slipping on doorknob at worksite may proceed on Labor Law § 241(6) claim based on Industrial Code § 23-1.7(e)(2)

Montes v. Collins Enterprises, LLC et al., No. 106308/08 (NY Sup. July 8, 2011):

Plaintiff, an employee of a non-party subcontractor, sustained injuries when he “stepped on a round wooden doorknob” in a room of an apartment where he was working.  Plaintiff alleged violations of Labor Law §§ 200, 240(1), and 241(6) against the owner and general contractor (but agreed to drop his Labor Law § 200 claim against the owner and his Labor Law § 240(1) claim against both defendants).

Labor Law § 241(6)

This section of the Labor Law

“imposes a nondelegable duty of reasonable care upon owners of premises and general contractors hired to perform renovations to provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety to the persons employed in all areas in which construction, excavation, or demolition work is being performed. Both an owner and a general contractor may be vicariously liable for injuries sustained due to another party’s negligence in failing to comply with the specific safety rules and regulations promulgated by the Commissioner of the Department of Labor.  … To support a claim under Labor Law § 241(6), the particular regulation relied upon by the plaintiff must mandate compliance with concrete specifications and not simply declare general safety standards or reiterate common-law principles.”

Plaintiff based his Labor Law § 241(6) claim on three sections of the Industrial Code:  12 NYCRR (“Code”) §§ 23-1.7(e)(1), 23-1.7(e)(2), and 23-2.1 (each of which has been held to be an appropriate Labor Law § 241(6) predicate).

Code § 23-1.7(e)(1)

The court granted summary judgment to defendants dismissing plaintiff’s Labor Law § 241(6) cause of action based upon an alleged violation of Code § 23-1.7(e)(1).  That section requires that “all passageways must be kept free from accumulations of dirt and debris and from any other obstructions or conditions which could cause tripping.”  This section was inapplicable, since plaintiff admitted “that the accident did not occur in the hallway but rather within a room in the apartment” and “the room itself is not a passageway.”

Code § 23-2.1

The court likewise granted summary judgment to defendants dismissing plaintiff’s Labor Law § 241(6) cause of action based upon an alleged violation of Code § 23-2.1.  That section states that “all building materials shall be stored in a safe and orderly manner” and that “[m]aterial piles shall be stable under all conditions and so located that they do not obstruct any passageway, walkway, stairway or other thoroughfare.”  The court agreed with defendants that “a stray doorknob” that was “not being stored” did not implicate this section.

Code § 23-1.7(e)(2)

The court, however, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment which sought to dismiss plaintiff’s Labor Law § 241(6) cause of action based upon an alleged violation of Code § 23-1.7(e)(2).  That section states that “the parts of floors, platforms and similar areas where persons work or pass shall be kept free from accumulations of dirt and debris and from scattered tools and materials.”  The court agreed that this section was implicated here, noting that:

“While it is clear that a doorknob is not dirt or a tool, it could be considered debris or a material. The drafters of the statute sought to prevent tripping and a round doorknob in the middle of a room may be deemed a tripping hazard by a jury, which is consistent with the intent of the regulation.”

The court rejected defendant’s reliance on Vital v. City of New York, 43 A.D.3d 309 (1st Dep’t 2007), where plaintiff tripped on a sandwich wrapper.  Vital held that the sandwich wrapper was a “transient piece of paper” that “does not qualify as ‘debris’ under” Code § 23-1.7(e)(2).  The court found that the instant case’s doorknob was different than Vital‘s transient sandwich wrapper, and hence reached a different result.

Labor Law § 200

The court granted defendant Turner (general contractor)’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s Labor Law § 200 claim.  This section of the Labor Law

“is a statutory representation of the common law duty imposed on an owner or general contractor to provide construction site workers with a safe place to work.  … Liability can only be imposed if the defendant exercised control or supervision specifically over the work that resulted in the accident and had actual or constructive notice of the purportedly unsafe condition. … General supervisory control is insufficient to impute liability. … Actual supervisory input into the way work is performed is required for §200 liability. … If an accident is caused by a dangerous condition at the premises, rather than the methods used in the work, the plaintiff need not establish that the defendant owners exercised supervision and control over his work in order to prevail on Labor Law §200 cause of action. … In that circumstance, plaintiff need only show that the defendant owner/general contractor had either actual or constructive notice of the defective condition.”

The court rejected plaintiff’s argument that the general contractor (Turner) had actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition.  Turner denied knowledge of the knob’s existence, and plaintiff did not point to any evidence indicating that Turner was aware of the knob’s location or that the object was on the floor long enough to support a finding of constructive notice.

The court also rejected plaintiff’s claim that the general contractor “had actual supervision and authority over the workers’ methods of performing the work”.  Deposition testimony revealed that “if the site safety supervisor saw an unsafe situation he could cordon off the area, stop the worker or notify the subcontractor and have the subcontractor remedy the issue” and that each morning, a meeting was held with the foremen of the subcontractors “to go over the project and what progress the subcontractors had made”.

The court nevertheless held:

“This level of supervision … is not sufficient to impute Labor Law § 200 liability on Turner. There is no evidence in the record that Turner instructed the subcontractors how the work had to be done. While Turner gave housekeeping instructions to the subcontractors, it exercised no control over the way the subcontractors complied with these instructions and had no say in the manner in which the work was done.”

Thus, the court granted summary judgment to general contractor Turner, in light of plaintiff’s failure to raise a material issue of fact as to whether Turner exercised sufficient control or supervision for liability under Labor Law § 200.

Finally, the court permitted a “small amount” of post-Note of Issue discovery, namely, a deposition of a non-NY resident who employed plaintiff since the accident.

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