Labor Law 200 Explained

New York City’s Labor Law 200, applying to laborers such as construction workers, describes the duty of employers and construction site owners “to protect [the] health and safety of employees” by assuring them of “reasonable and adequate protection” for any type of work they have been hired to perform. While workers’ compensation provides a no-fault system of compensation for workplace injury in New York State, manual laborers typically work for companies that are contracted out by third parties, who may then be subject to third-party lawsuits brought by injured workers who were injured as a result of unsafe work conditions.

Need to Know

  • Labor Law 200, a law whose objective is to promote worker safety, seeks to protect construction workers from injuries on the job that were caused by unsafe work conditions.
  • The law requires site owners and general contractors to take reasonable steps to keep their employees safe on the job.
  • Labor Law 200 may be violated by unsafe work environments, unsafe methods of work, or both.

In This Article

Who is Protected by Labor Law 200?

Manual workers—defined by New York State law as those who spend 25% of their day or more engaged in physical labor—assume certain risks inherent to their work. If no labor laws existed to protect them, it would be easy for their employers to evade responsibility for any injury which might occur to them on the job, perhaps hiding behind the risk associated with the work.

While recognizing that manual workers face a certain possibility of injury inherent to the work that they do, Labor Law 200 aims to safeguard these employees against preventable injuries by discouraging the presence of unnecessary hazards, while ensuring that achievable, common-sense protective measures are in place to address any hazards that are a part of the job. Depending on the nature of the work, these measures may include proper safety gear, adequate lighting, proper security on manholes, hatches and trap doors, properly functioning machinery, and tools that are not defective. 

Possible Violations of Labor Law 200

Violations of Labor Law 200 typically fall under one of two categories:

  • Dangerous or defective conditions. In such cases, incidental circumstances at the worksite create an unsafe environment for employees. Something as simple as a tripping hazard on a work site may violate Labor Law 200 if the general contractor had notice of the hazard (be it actual notice, in which he or she was specifically alerted to the hazard, or constructive notice, in which he or she had sufficient reason to know about it) and adequate time to correct it.
  • Dangerous means and methods. In such cases, the work itself is being carried out through methods that are unsafe. For example, if a construction crew is using a staircase to move heavy objects where a ramp would be appropriate to the task, that crew is employing a dangerous method. To prove liability in a case founded on dangerous means or methods, the plaintiff’s team must prove that the general contractor had control of the means or methods involved.

It is possible for both violations to exist in the same case. For example, in one case settled by Block O’Toole & Murphy, our client was injured on the site of a large school renovation project. Although he himself was working on a renovation of the school building, the same project included excavations of the adjacent parking lot, through which our client needed to walk in order to access his work at the school.

During this walk, he stepped on a trench that had been unsafely backfilled, causing him to fall underground as the earth collapsed beneath his feet. Our investigation determined that the general contractor on the project, who was on notice of the compromised soil, had not only created a dangerous or defective condition by failing to take action, but had further employed dangerous means and methods in excavating the parking lot without attempting to direct workers around problematic areas.

Proving Liability in a Labor Law 200 Violation

Labor Law 200 calls for “reasonable and adequate protection” for the employees it concerns, raising the question of what constitutes reasonable and adequate protection. This, naturally, will vary according to the nature of the work. While a person wearing protective gear such as a safety helmet and steel-toed boots may be adequately equipped to operate a jackhammer, such protections are unlikely to serve the same purpose for a pipefitter working at a height.

Different work sites call for different safety measures, and, while your jury may easily recognize that a circumstance or practice was unsafe from its description, they are less likely to have industry knowledge of how such a situation might have been properly handled. In some cases, the plaintiff’s own testimony as a person experienced in the industry, or the testimony of similarly experienced witnesses on the site, may be sufficient to help the jury understand where the violation occurred and how it might have been remedied.

If your attorney believes that your testimony requires additional support, however, he or she may retain an expert witness who, if qualified, can properly apprise the jury as to what safety practices are expected and utilized on such sites. In the aforementioned case involving the client who fell into an improperly backfilled trench, an expert with a background in working on similar sites proved to be a crucial witness. Our expert described the proper method of backfilling and compacting soil, as well as the testing process for assuring that the soil is sturdy. He further explained how such a site might have been properly set up to demarcate pathways for navigation around dangerous areas, avoiding accidents like the one that befell our client.

Proving liability for a violation of Labor Law 200 does not, in itself, guarantee a successful case. The plaintiff’s team must additionally be able to prove damages, a process which may be complicated when the plaintiff has sustained prior injuries. In one case Block O’Toole and Murphy handled, a union plumber was injured by falling gravel from an excavator on a job site. He suffered from herniated discs and underwent two spinal surgeries. Because our client had suffered back injuries in two prior motor vehicle accidents, the defense argued that his injuries were unrelated to the accident. By showing that our client had not complained of pain from his prior accidents for eight years, had not missed more than a week of work in that time, and had not required surgery prior to the excavator accident, our firm was able to settle with the site owner, the general contractor, and the prime foundation contractor for $3,075,000.

Retaining an Attorney

It is always advisable to retain an attorney early in a personal injury case. This particularly holds true if you believe that the injury—whether to you or a loved one—occurred under circumstances that violate Labor Law 200. Because it is a hotly-litigated and contested area, New York labor law is subject to constant evolution as decisions made on a weekly basis create subtle alterations in standards. These standards can range from what defenses are valid or invalid, to what workers are covered by the protections described, to what constitutes a viable case at all. It is possible for these shifts to occur so rapidly that a difference of two or three weeks changes the way a case is handled.

While you may be able to gain an approximate perspective on your circumstances through a bit of personal research, an experienced New York injury attorney will be able to keep up with any changes in standards related to your case. He or she will serve as a reliable source of the most current state of New York case law, helping you to apply it to your case as you move forward.

Block O’Toole & Murphy has a strong track record of successful settlements in Labor Law 200 violations, including:

  • $4,650,000 for a laborer who suffered fractured ribs and herniated lumbar discs after falling from a warehouse shelf
  • $4,500,000 for a union plumber who suffered orthopedic injuries necessitating an eventual knee replacement after tripping on a job site
  • $3,750,000 for an electrician who suffered severe leg injuries after being struck by a falling steel beam
  • $3,720,000 for a glass installation worker who fell two stories as a result of an unsecured hole cover, suffering severe foot and ankle injuries
  • $2,825,000 for bricklayer who suffered severe injuries requiring surgery after falling through a collapsing platform while renovating an elevator shaft
  • $2,225,000 for a union carpenter foreman who suffered back and neck injuries after being struck by an unsecured steel door
  • $1,850,000 for an asbestos abatement worker who suffered neck and back injuries including herniated discs and six broken ribs after falling from a wet scaffold
  • $1,100,000 for a union ironworker who lost two fingertips after being required to transport a 600-pound steel grate by hand

The attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy are deeply invested in laws that promote safety for workers in New York and serve all five boroughs of New York City as well as the entirety of New York State. Contact Block O’Toole & Murphy to receive a free legal consultation by calling 212-736-5300, or by filling out our online contact form.

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