New York Labor Law Holds Sway

To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes an unreinforced ladder is just an unreinforced ladder; and negligence is simply negligence.

In seeking summary judgment to recover damages against the defendants for personal injuries as a result of a fall from a ladder, the plaintiff in Bridgemohan v Cornell Group, Inc., alleged that he was exposed to elevation-related risks for which no safety measures were provided. Indeed, the plaintiff maintained that this failure to install adequate protection led to the accident and caused his injuries.

The plaintiff's deposition revealed that Jose Soriano, who'd been retained by the defendants to perform work on the premises, had enlisted plaintiff to help with the job. The task entailed using a ladder to fill cracks in a garage wall. While plaintiff used the ladder, it gave way.  Both the plaintiff and the ladder plummeted to the ground. The plaintiff hit the concrete pavement, striking his left shoulder and injuring the left side of his jaw. Notably, the ladder had no protective tips or rubber feet.

Upon a review of the motion papers, the Court determined that the defendants failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the plaintiff's actions (including allegedly performing a jump turn on the ladder) were the sole cause of his accident. Moreover, the ladder had not been secured to a wall; nor was it being held by anyone, and it did not have protective rubber feet. Additionally, Mr. Soriano paid plaintiff for the six to seven hours of work on the defendant's premises. As a result, the court found the issue of unpaid volunteer work---in Stringer v Musacchia---was inapplicable.

Thus, the defendants' violation of Labor Law §240(1) was found to be the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s accident; and the plaintiff's conduct could not be held responsible for it. Indeed, the Court specifically held that a jump turn, standing alone, was insufficient to strip plaintiff of statutory protection and did not constitute an unforeseeable or extraordinary act which was a superseding cause of the accident. Accordingly, the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment was granted.