How Negligence Principles Are Applied to NY Worksite Accident Cases
As we explained in "How to Prove a Construction Site Accident Case in New York," there are a few different ways that defendants can be held liable for a worksite injury under New York law. This article focuses on the first of these categories, where the plaintiff is obligated to demonstrate that the defendants were liable under general, common-law negligence principles, as codified in NY Labor Law Section 200. (The latter two statutory categories provide that the defendants can be held automatically (or, in legalese, "absolutely") liable if the plaintiff demonstrates that the defendants violated the statute.)
That said, there are two distinct types of Labor Law 200 claims, with one type of claim related to the condition of the premises themselves, and the other related to the equipment provided to perform the work. This distinction is important, because the difference in the plaintiff's burden of proof regarding each type of claim varies rather widely. To that end, one of New York's appellate courts recently summarized these issues as follows:
"Labor Law § 200 is a codification of the common-law duty imposed on an owner or general contractor to maintain a safe construction site. Rizzuto v. L.A. Wenger Contr. Co., 91 N.Y.2d 343, 352, 670 N.Y.S.2d 816, 821, 693 N.E.2d 1068, 1073 (1998). In other words, a claim arising pursuant to the provision is "tantamount to a common-law negligence claim in a workplace context." Mendoza v. Highpoint Assoc., IX, LLC, 83 AD3d 1, 9, 919 N.Y.S.2d 129, 135 (1st Dept. 2011).
"The plain language of the statute indicates there are two distinct prongs or categories to the provision: one pertains to the work premises and the requirement that they be maintained in a safe condition; the second pertains to work performance and the requirement of using material and tools in a safe manner and providing equipment and tools which are safe to use. The latter category is that part of the common-law duty to maintain a safe work site which was extended by statute to "include tools and appliances without which the place to work would be incomplete." Hess v. Bernheimer & Schwartz Pilsener Brewing Co., 219 N.Y. 415, 418, 114 N.E. 808, 808 (1916) ...
"Unlike Labor Law § 240 and § 241 where absolute liability attaches to an owner or general contractor, a plaintiff seeking recovery under §200 must satisfy the liability standards of common-law negligence. In other words, where the plaintiff's injuries arise out a dangerous premises condition, the plaintiff must show that the owner or general contractor either created the condition, or had actual or constructive notice of it sufficient for corrective action to be taken. See Mitchell v. New York University, 12 AD3d 200, 784 N.Y.S.2d 104 (1st Dept. 2004), citing Gordon v. American Museum of Natural History, 67 N.Y.2d 836, 501 N.Y.S.2d 646, 492 N.E.2d 774 (1986). Where a plaintiff's injuries arise because of an alleged defect or danger in the methods or material of the work, recovery against an owner or general contractor cannot be had "unless it is shown that the party to be charged exercised some supervisory control" over the methods of work or materials supplied. Ross v. Curtis-Palmer Hydro-Elec. Co., 81 N.Y.2d 494, [*9]505, 601 N.Y.S.2d 49, 55, 618 N.E.2d 82, 88 (1993).
"The starting point of any analysis of Labor Law § 200 claims therefore should be to ascertain what caused the plaintiff's injury: whether it was caused by a dangerous premises condition, or whether the plaintiff was injured because of the manner in which the work was being performed, or as a result of defective tools and equipment."