Firm News

Second Department Affirms Jury Verdict in Favor of Defendants Which Concluded Plaintiff’s Actions Were Sole Proximate Cause of His Accident for Purposes of Labor Law §240(1)

In a decision dated March 23, 2022, the Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed the Supreme Court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion to set aside the jury verdict on the issue of liability on his Labor Law §240(1) cause of action and for judgment as a matter of law in his favor on that cause of action. The plaintiff, employed as a job-site superintendent by the general contractor on a construction project, was allegedly injured when a temporary barricade fell over on top of him. The plaintiff alleged a violation of Labor Law §240(1) against, among others, our clients, FC Yonkers Associates, LLC and Express, LLC, the property owner and commercial tenant, respectively.  Following a jury trial, the jury found in favor of the defendants, concluding that plaintiff’s actions were the sole proximate cause of his accident. There was evidence that  shortly after the accident, the plaintiff reportedly told his employer that he removed the supports for the barricade causing it to fall over. In light of the evidence presented at trial, the Second Department affirmed the jury verdict holding that “there was a valid line of reasoning and permissible inferences which could have led a rational jury to conclude that it was [plaintiff’s] own conduct in removing the bracing… rather than any violation of Labor Law §240(1), that was the sole proximate cause of his alleged injuries.  

Scott Petersen et al. v. Forest City Ratner Companies, LLC et al., 203 A.D.3d 1093, 162 N.Y.S.3d 785 (2d Dep’t 2022)

Court Dismisses Complaint in its Entirety as to Defendant Housing Corporation

In a decision dated November 23, 2021, Hon. Frederick Sampson dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint as to our client, Forest Hills Garden Corporation. We secured dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint in a summary judgment motion made immediately after answering and before conducting any discovery. By making the motion immediately after answering, we saved our client the expense of conducting discovery in this multi-party litigation. Plaintiff, a tenant in a privately owned home in Forest Hills Gardens was injured when she tripped and fell in a hole on the lawn in front of her home. She sued the homeowner as well as Forest Hills Gardens Corporation and several contractors. Relying on the By-Laws and Architectural Guidelines of the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation, we established that it had no duty to maintain privately owned property in Forest Hills Gardens.

Jaime Hochhauser v. Tortoroli and Tortorli, Inc. et al., Index No. 702367/2019 (Sup. Ct. Queens Co., Nov. 23, 2021)

Court Dismisses Negligence Claim and Awards Contractual Indemnity to Provider of Man-lift in Action Brought By Railroad Employee Plaintiff Who Was Injured When Train Struck a Man-lift that Stopped on Railroad Tracks

In a decision dated October 26, 2021, the Honorable Julian D. Schreibman of Ulster County Supreme Court granted the motion for summary judgment brought by our client, Kiewit Constructors, Inc. (“Kiewit”), seeking dismissal of the plaintiff’s negligence claim against it and summary judgment on its cross-claim against the defendant, Steelways, Inc. (“Steelways”), for contractual indemnification.  The plaintiff, an employee of the defendant, CSX Transportation (“CSXT”), alleged that on March 7, 2017, he sustained personal injuries when a CSXT train struck a man-lift which had inexplicably stopped on the railroad tracks at a public crossing, causing the man-lift and a derailed train car to strike a piece of track maintenance equipment in which the plaintiff was sitting.  Kiewit had provided the man-lift to Steelways to use to wash steel pipes pursuant to their contract.  The accident occurred at the end of the work day, when one of Steelways’ employees attempted to drive the man-lift across the tracks to Kiewit’s facilities for overnight storage while other Steelways employees flagged traffic.  The plaintiff alleged that Kiewit was negligent in providing a defective man-lift, failing to properly train and supervise Steelways’ employees and failing to operate the CSXT train at the proper speed.  To determine whether Kiewit was entitled to summary judgment, the Court first considered whether Kiewit owed the plaintiff a duty of care, which turned on whether Kiewit owed the plaintiff a duty to control CSXT’s and Steelways’ employee’s conduct.  

The Court agreed with Kiewit that it did not owe the plaintiff a duty to control CSXT’s conduct for the plaintiff’s benefit because Kiewit did not have any relationship with CSXT.  The Court also agreed with Kiewit that it was not responsible for Steelways’ employee’s alleged failure to properly operate the man-lift while crossing the tracks because Steelways was an independent contractor.  Kiewit’s contract with Steelways expressly provided that Steelways was to provide all supervision with respect to its work of power washing steel pipes for Kiewit.  The Court rejected Steelways’ argument that a contract provision requiring Steelways to perform the work “in a prompt manner as directed by Kiewit” created an issue of fact. The Court determined that the provision merely reflected Kiewit’s “general supervisory powers” over Steelways.  The Court also rejected Steelways’ argument that the contract should be construed against Kiewit, the drafter of the agreement, because the deposition testimony of Steelways’ president that he read every contract, including the contract at issue, showed he was a sophisticated party.  The Court was also unpersuaded by Steelways’ argument that Kiewit exercised supervision and control over the work because Kiewit had provided some initial training to Steelways’ employees regarding how to use the man-lift. According to the Court, this kind of activity only demonstrated that Kiewit exercised general supervisory control over the work.  The  Court also agreed plaintiff had failed to refute Kiewit’s prima facie showing that the man-lift was not defective.  Kiewit established its prima facie burden based on the evidence that its foreman had inspected the man-lift five days before the accident, that Steelways had inspected it on the morning of the accident and that Steelways’ employees had operated the man-lift on the day of the accident without incident.  The Court found that Steelways’ contentions that Kiewit failed to establish the man-lift was not in use in the five days between Kiewit’s safety inspection and the date of the accident, and that Steelways had not shown its inspection form was approved by the man-lift’s manufacturer were speculative and insufficient to create a triable issue of fact as to whether the man-lift Kiewit provided was defective. 

The Court also granted Kiewit’s motion for summary judgment on its cross-claim for contractual indemnification against Steelways because the accident “ar[ose] out of” Steelways’ work under the indemnity provision.  The Court rejected Steelways’ argument that the contract was void based on its president’s testimony that a person whom he could only identify as someone possibly named  “Dave” from Kiewit had orally told him that Kiewit would be responsible for supervising Steelways’ employees. The Court determined this testimony was insufficient to avoid summary judgment.    

Corey Kiernan v. CSX Transportation, Inc. et al., Index No. EF2017-2094 (Sup. Ct. Ulster Co., Oct. 26, 2021)

Plaintiff Who Allegedly Fell 50 Feet From Marine Parkway Bridge Through an Opening in Containment Tarp Was Denied Summary Judgment on Labor Law §§240(1) and 241(6) Claims

In a decision dated August 3, 2021, the Honorable Timothy J. Dufficy of Queens County Supreme Court held that plaintiff Artur Cesar was not entitled to summary judgment pursuant to Labor Law §§240(1) and 241(6) despite having fallen 50 feet from a bridge into the water below. In his complaint, plaintiff alleged that on August 3, 2017, he was lawfully working for Kiska Construction, Inc. on the Marine Parkway Bridge in Rockaway performing various painting duties when he fell through an opening in the tarp and into the water below, a height of approximately 50 feet. Following the close of discovery, plaintiff moved for summary judgment pursuant to CPLR 3212 on his Labor Law §§240(1) and 241(6) claims against our client, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (“TBTA”). Judge Dufficy initially found that plaintiff had established a prima facie case in support of his Labor Law §240(1) claim. As per the plaintiff’s deposition testimony, he demonstrated that the defendant failed to provide him with an adequate safety device while he was working at an elevation and that this failure was a proximate cause of his injuries. Specifically, plaintiff established that, while he was performing various bridge painting duties, he lost his balance and fell through an opening in the tarp and into the water below, causing him to become injured. Plaintiff further established that he was not provided with proper protection because there was no safety cable for him to tie off to in the area where he was working at the time of the accident.

Ultimately, Judge Dufficy held that in opposition to the plaintiff’s motion on his Labor Law §240(1) claim, the defendant raised a triable issue of fact “whether it provided the plaintiff with proper protection.” Specifically, the defendant obtained an affidavit from Safety Director Brian Van Westervelt who averred that the tarp in the area was completely closed and there were no openings through which the plaintiff could have fallen. He further stated there was a safety cable spanning the area that was in easy reach of the plaintiff and onto which he could have easily clipped his lanyard. The Court also found credible and persuasive the affidavit of site safety expert, Martin Bruno, who responded to the accident site and conducted an inspection mere days after the accident occurred. Mr. Bruno was able to state from personal knowledge and clear photographs that there was indeed a proper safety cable in the area where plaintiff was working at the time of his accident. Thus, the Court denied plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on his Labor Law §240(1) cause of action.

Turning to plaintiff’s claim pursuant to Labor law §241(6), summary judgment was also denied. In support of his §241(6) claim, plaintiff alleged a violation of Industrial Code Rule 12 NYCRR 23-1.7(b)(1) which provides: “Every hazardous opening into which a person may step or fall shall be guarded by a substantial cover fastened in place by a safety railing constructed and installed in compliance with this Part (rule).” Although the Courts have held this provision to be specific enough to support liability and plaintiff established a prima facie case that it was violated, we again raised an issue fact. In support of the defendant’s opposition papers, Mr. Westervelt averred in a sworn affidavit that the tarp in the area where plaintiff was working at the time of his accident was completely closed and there were no openings through which he could have fallen. In sum, as there were issues of fact on both Labor Law §§240(1) and 241(6) claims, summary judgment in plaintiff’s favor was not warranted and his motion was denied.

Artur Cesar v. Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, Index No. 700217/18 (Sup. Ct. Queens Co., Aug. 3, 2021)