Although I often find cases that revolve around statutory interpretation somewhat bland (and I don't think I'm alone in this) I must admit that the Court of Appeals' decision in Runner v. New York Stock Exchange, which turned on the application of a narrow provision of New York Labor Law §240(1) (which, generally speaking, holds owners of multiple dwellings and their contractors strictly liable for the personal injuries sustained by construction site workers that are hurt due to elevation-related hazards; for a general overview of this and the other primary Labor Law statutes that were enacted to protect construction site workers, please see "What A Plaintiff Must Prove To Win A Construction Site Accident Case) most fascinating.

In this particular case, the plaintiff sustained personal injuries when he and his co-workers were moving a nearly 1000 pound reel of wire between two levels in a basement hallway of a commercial building. In order to bridge the four step difference in height between the two levels, the plaintiff and his co-workers used a rope to lower the reel down the steps, and thereby created their own makeshift pulley system. Unfortunately, the plaintiff, who was acting as a counterweight in this pulley system, was badly hurt when he was yanked into a pipe that the crew had placed across the hallway door as part of the makeshift pulley system. The Court was thus faced with the following question: If an injury stems from neither a falling worker nor a falling object that strikes a plaintiff (the usual cases where liability under this statute is imposed), can the defendants still be held liable on the theory that the injury resulted from an elevation-related hazard (i.e., section 240(1) of New York's Labor Law)?

In answering this question in the affirmative, the Court of Appeals reads this statute expansively, holding that "we think the dispositive inquiry framed by our cases does not depend upon the precise characterization of the device employed or upon whether the injury resulted from a fall, either of the worker or of an object upon the worker. Rather, the single decisive question is whether plaintiff's injuries were the direct consequence of a failure to provide adequate protection against a risk arising from a physically significant elevation differential."

Jonathan Cooper
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Non-Compete, Trade Secret and School Negligence Lawyer
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