Court Considers Weight and Force Generated By Falling Object in Granting Injured Worker Summary Judgment on Labor Law 240(1) Claim

In Tria v. Regis High School (decided April 14, 2014), the court granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on his Labor § 240(1) claim, but denied it with respect to plaintiff’s Labor Law § 241(6) claim.

Plaintiff was injured when, while unloading a tractor trailer of press board panels and stacking them on an A frame dolly, the panels fell and landed on plaintiff’s leg. Defendant argued that Labor Law § 240(1) did not apply, because the accident did not involve a “significant elevation differential.” The court disagreed.

Labor Law § 240(1)

imposes strict liability on “owners, contractors, and their agents” when they fail to provide adequate safety equipment and that failure causes a worker’s injury in a gravity-related accident. Labor Law §240(1) applies when an object upon which the force of gravity is applied is material being hoisted or a load that required securing for the purpose of carrying out plaintiff‘s undertaking.  …

The weight of the object and the amount of force it is capable of generating, even over the course of a relatively short distance, can be considered when determining an elevation differential and whether the elevation differential can be viewed as de minimis.

Having summarized the law, the court explained why plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment on his § 240(1) claim:

Plaintiff makes a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Three witnesses, including the plaintiff, stated in their deposition testimony that there were approximately eight panels on the A-frame dolly, and the expert witness testimony for both parties establishes that the panels weighted approximately sixty pounds each. The A-frame dolly carried a load of at least four hundred and eighty pounds. Both the witness statements and the expert testimony show that the A-frame dolly in question did not have vertical rails, braces, locking casters, a lip on the edge to hold the load, or any other securing device. Plaintiff shows that the A-frame dolly lacked a safety device and that at the time the load fell, the total weight of the load was at least four hundred and eighty pounds and therefore not de minimis.

The court, however, denied plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment as to his Labor Law § 241(6) claim, which was based on a violation of New York Industrial Code § 23-2.1 (relating to “[s]torage of material or equipment”). Specifically, there were “issues of fact as to whether the panels exceeded the A frame dolly’s weight capacity, and whether the placement and
weight of the panels endangered the plaintiff.”

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