It is deeply disturbing when you see a decision coming out of New York's highest court that clearly ignores reality. Yet that is exactly what happened in the construction site accident case of Morton v. State.

In this case, the plaintiff descended into a trench that was dug in the middle of a New York State roadway in order to fix a broken water main, at which point an inadequately shored side wall collapsed, injuring the plaintiff. Although there was apparently no dispute that the failure to shore up the side wall constitued a violation of the construction worker safety statute, NY Labor Law § 241(6), the State contended that it could not be held liable for the plaintiff's personal injuries because it had no connection with the worker, and could not be deemed an "owner" under the staute.

In its bizarre decision agreeing with the State, the Court held that since the water company (for whom the plaintiff worked) did not obtain the required highway work permit, "claimant was a trespasser to whom the State owed no duty under Labor Law § 241(6)." 

To quote John McEnroe: "You cannot be serious!"

Adding to the absurdity is that the water company specifically had added New York State as an additional insured on its policy governing the work that the claimant was in the middle of performing, a fact that the majority dismissed as having been done for "some unexplained reason."

Perhaps there is some small consolation to be had, though. There was a vigorous dissent that noted the inclusion of the State on the water company's insurance policy was certainly "not out of any charitable impulse" but because the water company knew that the state could theoretically be held liabile for work that was being performed.

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