NAII Applauds N.Y. Court Decision Rejecting Absolute Liability Concept for Labor Law

January 8, 2004

The National Association of Independent Insurers issued a bulletin praising a recent decision by the New York Court of Appeals that rejected a plaintiff’s claim that he is entitled to collect injury damages under the state’s Section 240 labor law, which imposes strict liability for construction related injuries.
“Although New York’s labor law has its roots in scaffold laws dating back to the 1880s, the particulars in this case make it clear that the plaintiff was not entitled to collect as there was no violation of Section 240 and the plaintiff’s negligence was the sole, proximate cause of his own injury,” stated NAII general counsel Gerald L. Zimmerman.

The bulletin described the facts of the case, Blake v. Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City (NHS), as follows: “The plaintiff, who operates his own contracting company, was injured in a fall from one of his own extension ladders. Although he admitted at trial that the accident was the result of his own action, he contended that he was entitled to collect damages from the homeowner and NHS because they violated a section of the state labor law that makes employers strictly liable for on-the-job worker injuries.

“The appellate court pointed out that NHS, a non-profit organization that provides low-interest loans for housing renovation, is not a contractor, owner or an agent of either, and therefore not subject to the labor law. Additionally, because the plaintiff’s negligence was the sole reason for the accident, the incident could not be construed as strict liability.

“The court reasoned that ‘the terms absolute or strict liability may have given rise to the mistaken belief that a fall from a scaffold or ladder, in and of itself, results in an award or damages to the injured party. That is not the law and we have never held or suggested otherwise.'”

Zimmerman praised the court’s use of “common sense in rendering their judgment.” He noted that “too often, plaintiffs try to play fast and loose with the so-called scaffolding law. Legislators should consider revising or repealing the strict liability provisions, which would improve availability and affordability in the insurance marketplace and discourage nonsensical lawsuits.”

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.