New York Labor Law Sections 240 and 241 provide broad requirements for the use of scaffolding and other safety equipment for various construction projects. These statutes give workers causes of action to sue contractors and site owners for their injuries. If it turns out that safety equipment was not provided, the owners and contractors can be held strictly liable.
Notably, both Sections 240 and 241 contain exemptions for “owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work.” The purpose of this exemption is to ensure that homeowners do not face the same level of strict liability as commercial owners and contractors, as the state legislature envisioned that the average homeowner would not have the ability or means to supply workers with safety devices.
Looking at the exemption, a homeowner who is sued under Labor Law Sections 240 and/or 241 must prove that he or she (1) owned a one or two family dwelling and that the dwelling was the subject of the construction work, and (2) did not direct, control, or supervise the work.
Step One: The Homeowner Must Own a One or Two-Family Dwelling
In order to avoid Labor Law Sections 240 or 241 liability, a homeowner must own a one or two-family dwelling which is not used for commercial use, and that dwelling must be the subject of the construction work. Commercial use is key for this provision of the Labor Law: if a person operates a business on the first floor of his or her home and lives on the second floor, he or she risks liability under Sections 240 and 241 if construction work is done.
However, it is important to note that some landlords may qualify for the Section 240 and 241 exemptions. If a homeowner rents out part of his or her home to a tenant and subsequently gets construction work done on the home, that homeowner will qualify for the Section 240 and 241 exemptions, even if the homeowner is earning rent.
Step Two: The Homeowner Cannot Direct or Control the Construction Work
In addition to the first requirement, a homeowner must not have directed or controlled the construction work in order to qualify for the homeowner’s exemption to Labor Law Sections 240 and 241. Essentially, a homeowner cannot exercise supervisory control over a contractor’s work, otherwise the homeowner can be held strictly liable.
Granted, this requirement does not forbid all forms of supervision. For instance, a homeowner who seeks to have his or her home painted is permitted to choose the color of paint and still not be held liable under Sections 240 and 241.
Common Law Negligence Can Still Apply
Even though there exists a homeowner’s exemption from Sections 240 and 241, an injured construction worker still has other means of legal recourse against a homeowner. Such a worker can sue under Labor Law Section 200, in addition to negligence under the common law. This means that, even if a homeowner qualifies for the exception under Sections 240 and 241, he or she could still be held liable under common law.
However, there are similarities between the standards for Section 200/common law negligence and the homeowner’s exemption under Sections 240 and 241. In order to be liable under Section 200 and common law negligence, courts require that the homeowner exercise supervisory control over the work performed or that the homeowner had notice of the dangerous condition that causes the injury. Like under Sections 240 and 241, proving a lack of supervision or control is important in avoiding liability. Further, courts have refused to find liability under Section 200 and common law negligence where a homeowner engages in minimal supervision and control, which can even include coordination of contractors and having authority to review safety on-site.
While New York Labor Law Sections 240 and 241 impose strict liability on landowners and contractors who do not provide sufficient safety equipment, the statutes contain a specific exemption for owners of one or two-family dwellings who do not supervise or control the construction work. Courts have interpreted these provisions to allow for homeowners who rent out part of their homes to qualify, as well as allowing homeowners to engage in a small amount of supervision. It is important to homeowners to keep the limitations of the exemption in mind when hiring contractors for construction work.