Fall From A-Frame Ladder; Plaintiff Gets Summary Judgment on Labor Law § 240(1) Claim

In Caceres v. Standard Realty Assoc., Inc. (App. Div. 1st Dept. Aug. 25, 2015), plaintiff worker was injured when he fell from a ladder. The appellate court reversed the lower court and granted plaintiff summary judgment on liability on his claim under New York Labor Law § 240(1) (the so-called “scaffold law”).

Here are the facts of this construction accident case:

[W]hen[] standing on an A-frame ladder framing a wall in a bedroom to make a closet, [plaintiff] fell. The framing work required plaintiff to install a metal stud every 16 inches on center into the header of the frame of a nine to ten foot ceiling. After he had affixed the first two metal studs into the header, using an electric drill to screw them in, his helper was called away by the supervisor. No one else came over to assist him after the helper left, and he did not ask anybody else to come and assist him, because “[t]here was no one else at that moment.” Plaintiff moved the ladder over to the third stud and climbed up; he stood on the ladder, facing the stud, with both feet on the fourth step of the ladder. Plaintiff was holding his electric drill in his right hand and the metal stud he was affixing in his left hand. As plaintiff tried to reach around the stud with his right hand to install the screw into the header channel, he lost his balance and fell to the floor. The accident happened about five minutes after plaintiff’s helper had been called away.

In finding that plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment on the issue of liability under Labor Law 240(1), the court explained:

[I]t is undisputed that no equipment was provided to plaintiff to guard against the risk of falling from the ladder while operating the drill, and that plaintiff’s coworker was not stabilizing the ladder at the time of the fall. Under the circumstances, we find that plaintiff’s testimony that he fell from the ladder while performing drilling work established prima facie entitlement to summary judgment on the issue of liability on his Labor Law § 240(1) claim. In response, defendants failed to raise a triable issue of fact concerning the manner in which the accident occurred or whether the A-frame ladder provided adequate protection. Their arguments that plaintiff caused his own injuries, by allegedly placing himself in a position where he had to lean and reach around the side of the ladder to fix the wall stud, at most establish comparative negligence, which is not a defense to a Labor Law § 240(1) c[l]aim. (Emphasis added.)

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