New York Labor Law Section 240(1) is a broad-reaching statute that requires the use of scaffolding and other protective measures in various construction-related work. For contractors, property owners, and insurance companies, defending against a worker’s claim under Section 240(1) presents unique difficulties.
Succeeding on a motion for summary judgment and obtaining a dismissal of a New York Labor Law action can prove difficult. One specific reason is that the New York law maintains a particularly high standard for defendants to meet, requiring that a defendant prove the action or inaction of the plaintiff worker was the sole proximate cause of his or her accident. Further, even where it may seem evident that a negligent plaintiff caused his or her own injury, the case may still be allowed to proceed if it is unclear whether plaintiff was warned about the specific behavior or if other co-workers were engaged in similar behavior.
A Labor Law § 240 claim may be dismissed pursuant to a summary judgment motion when the plaintiff worker’s negligence is the sole proximate cause of his or her own injuries. More specifically, a defendant is not liable where (1) there are adequate safety devices available, (2) the plaintiff knows that they are available and is expected to use them, (3) the plaintiff chose not to use the safety devices for no good reason, or the plaintiff misused the device, and (4) the plaintiff would not have been injured if not for his or her choice. Cahill v. Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Auth, 4 N.Y.3d 35, 40, 790 N.Y.S.2d 74 (2004). This way, workers are not rewarded when they act in a negligent manner.
Sole proximate cause is to be contrasted with comparative negligence, which is not a defense to a Labor Law § 240 claim. If the court finds that a plaintiff was comparatively negligent instead of the sole proximate cause of the injuries, the court will not dismiss the claim on a summary judgment motion.