Recent Labor Law §240(1) Decision—Fourth Department

The New York Court of Appeals decisions in Runner v. New York Stock Exchange, et al. and Wilinski v. 334 East 92nd Housing Development Fund Corp. continue to have ripple effects throughout the Appellate Division Courts. Recently, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department issued a decision in the case of DiPalma v. State of New York once again affirming, and to some degree expanding, the decisions in Runner and Wilinski.

In DiPalma the plaintiff was injured when a large “skid box” containing concrete debris slid off of a forklift truck thereby striking the plaintiff who was standing on a work platform. The skid box fell from a height of approximately 1-2 feet from the forklift. The defendants argued that Labor Law §240(1) was not applicable because there was “no significant height differential” between the skid box and the platform onto which it fell. The Fourth Department rejected the defendant’s argument and stated that its “core premise” in a Labor Law §240(1) analysis is that a “defendant’s failure to provide workers with adequate protection from reasonably preventable gravity related accidents will result in liability.” The court held that the plaintiff’s injury “flowed directly from the application of the force of gravity” to the object that struck him. The Court went on to cite Runner directly and noted that “the single decisive question is whether plaintiff’s injuries were the direct consequence of a failure to provide adequate protection against a risk arising from a physically significant elevation differential.”

As with the recent Court of Appeals decision of Wilinski v. 334 East 92nd Housing Development Fund Corp., the Courts are continuing to focus on the actual object that fell rather than where it fell from. In DiPalma the Court specifically considered the weight of the skid box and its contents coupled with the “potential harm” that it could cause, rather than the distance that it fell, in determining if the injury flowed directly from the force of gravity. The Court of Appeals conducted a similar analysis in Wilinski which involved a case where the plaintiff was injured when two unsecured, metal pipes measuring four inches in diameter and ten feet in length, fell and struck the plaintiff. The pipes in the Wilinski case were standing in an area where construction work was being performed. They toppled over after being struck by debris from a nearby wall that was being demolished. The defendants argued that there was no Labor Law §240(1) liability because the pipes were situated on the same level as the plaintiff when they toppled over.

The Court of Appeals in Wilinski rejected the “same level” argument holding that the elevation differential could not be viewed as de minimis, particularly given the weight of the object and the amount of force it was capable of generating, even over the course of a relatively short descent. The Court specifically cited the Runner decision holding that the height differential could not be described as de minimis given the “amount of force the pipes were able to generate over their descent. Thus, plaintiff suffered harm that flowed directly from the application of the force of gravity to the pipes.”

Going forward we will need to obtain specific information regarding weight, dimensions and overall size of the particular object that struck a plaintiff. We will then need to analyze whether the plaintiff’s injury was “the direct consequence of defendants’ failure to provide adequate protection against that risk.” Excerpts of the cases cited above are attached below for your convenience. Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions or comments.

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