Hillcrest Heights Development Corporation,
2003 NY Int. 111
The issue in this case is whether plaintiff's accident was covered under Labor Law section 240(1). We agree with the courts below that it was.
Defendant Hillcrest Heights Development Corporation
retained plaintiff's employer, Sahlem's Roofing & Siding, Inc.,
to perform work on the roofs of newly built homes. According to
It is undisputed that plaintiff was not provided with any safety devices. Earlier on the day of the accident, on his way to another work site, plaintiff had passed the Hillcrest site and noticed that there were toe boards, which create a runway to load the roof. At the time of the accident, the toe boards were no longer present. In the other work site, scaffolding and roof brackets were made available.
Plaintiff commenced this action, arguing that defendant
was liable for his injuries under Labor Law section 240(1)
(Scaffolding and other devices for use of employees) which
[a]ll contractors and owners and their agents * * * in the erection * * * of a building or structure shall furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection to a person so employed. Defendant in turn commenced a third-party action against Sahlem, seeking common law indemnification.
Supreme Court granted plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment as to liability under Labor Law 240(1), finding that in the instant case, involving as it does a sloped roof, this Court believes that the risk of slipping and falling while working upon that slope is more certainly related to the direct application of gravity, pulling the worker from the elevation differential between the ridge of the roof to its eave, than if he were merely standing on a flat roof. It is for this reason that roof brackets and/or toe boards (crawling boards), etc., are required by 23 NYCRR 1.24(a) &(b). The court also granted defendant a conditional judgment on its common law indemnification claim against Sahlem, which did not appeal the ruling against it, and assumed the defense of this action.
Appellate Division affirmed over the dissent of two Justices, who
believed that [p]laintiff's slide down the roof, rather than off
the roof, is not the type of hazard that Labor Law § 240(1) was
Labor Law section 240(1) imposes absolute liability on owners, contractors and agents for their failure to provide workers with safety devices that properly protect against elevation-related special hazards. Breach of the statutory duty must be the proximate cause of the injury. The statute is to be interpreted liberally to accomplish its purpose ( Rocovich v Consolidated Edison Co., , 78 NY2d 509, 512-514 ).
The fact that a worker is injured while working above ground does not ipso facto mean that the injury resulted from an elevation-related risk contemplated by section 240(1) of the Labor Law. We made this clear in Rocovich and in Ross v Curtis- Palmer Hydro-Electric Co. (81 2 494 ). In Rocovich, the plaintiff was walking on a roof when he slipped and his foot became immersed in a trough carrying hot oil. In finding that the accident was not covered by section 240(1), we noted that it is difficult to imagine how plaintiff's proximity to the 12-inch trough could have entailed an elevation-related risk which called for any of the protective devices of the types listed in section 240(1) (78 2 at 514-515).
In Ross the plaintiff developed a back injury from
welding in an awkward position while lying on a platform. The
'[t]he special hazards' to which we referred in Rocovich * * * do not encompass any and all perils that may be connected in some tangential way with the effects of gravity. Rather, the 'special hazards' referred to are limited to such specific gravity-related accidents as falling from a height or being struck by a falling object that was improperly hoisted or inadequately secured. * * * In other words, Labor Law § 240(1) was designed to prevent those types of accidents in which the scaffold, hoist, stay, ladder or other protective device proved inadequate to shield the injured worker from harm directly flowing from the application of the force of gravity to an object or person ( id. at 501).
Since the scaffold effectively prevented plaintiff from falling down, it fulfilled the obligation of section 240(1).
Contrary to defendant's contention, Rocovich and Ross
are not controlling in this case. The simple fact is that
plaintiff was subject to an elevation-related risk. He fell from
the top of the roof all the way down to the eaves, a distance of
about 15 to 20 feet. Safety devices could have protected him
from falling as he did. Defendant does not dispute that under 22
NYCRR 23-1.24, plaintiff should have been provided with roofing
brackets, crawling boards or safety belts. The application of
section 240(1) does not hinge on whether the worker actually hit
In short, defendant was subject to an elevation-related risk while working on this particular roof, and he was not provided with any safety devices. In addition, the failure to provide any safety devices was a proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries. He was within the protective ambit of Labor Law section 240(1).
Accordingly, the judgment appealed from and the order of the Appellate Division brought up for review should be affirmed, with costs.
1 The issue of damages was tried before a jury, which awarded plaintiff damages.