Guide to Labor Law 240

BOM Partner David L. Scher discusses New York Labor Law 240, also known as the Scaffold Law.

Labor Law Section 240 is a New York State law meant, originally, to protect construction workers who work at heights from falls or fall-related accidents. The meaning of the statute has evolved over time as interpreted by the Court. Generally, the law requires that the general contractor of a project or owner of a site where construction (or another so-called ‘covered’ type of work) is taking place must provide the proper equipment and devices to the workers involved, in order to prevent gravity-related accidents. Indeed, although Labor Law 240 is nicknamed the “Scaffold Law,” it protects not only against all fall-related accidents, including falls from ladders or other structures (not just scaffolds), it can also be applied when a worker is struck by a falling object. There are various other scenarios in which the Scaffold Law may apply, but falls from heights and being struck by a falling object are the most common.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Scaffold Law FAQ
    1. What kind of workers are protected under the Scaffold Law?
      1. Important Labor Law 240 Case: Mananghaya v. Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center
    2. What are the responsibilities of a contractor or owner, according to the law?
  2. Why is the Scaffold Law Important?
  3. The Importance of the Scaffold Law: Case Studies
  4. Contact an Experienced Labor Law 240 Attorney Today
  5. Labor Law 240 Case Results

Commonly-Asked Questions About the Scaffold Law

Below are common questions our lawyers hear about the specifics of Labor Law 240. If you have further questions or would like to speak to an attorney in more detail, please contact us at 212-736-5300; we are ready to answer any questions you may have in a free consultation.

What kind of workers are protected under the Scaffold Law?

The official text of the law says that it applies to work such as “erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning, or pointing of a building or structure,” which is quite a broad range of work. Those categories would typically encompass most construction and construction-related jobs, but the class of workers protected by the Statute extends well beyond that. We have settled Labor Law 240 cases for ironworkers, plumbers, painters, electricians, bricklayers, mechanics, carpenters, waterproofers, HVAC workers, laborers, elevator mechanics, cable repair workers, commercial cleaners and many others who were seriously injured on the job; you do not have to specialize in scaffold work to be covered.

If you were injured in a gravity-related accident during a construction, renovation or demolition project, you very likely have a valid case to bring under Section 240. You should contact a qualified lawyer right away. But, as stated above, you may also be covered by the Section even if you were not performing traditional ‘construction’ work.

One such non-construction category of covered work under Section 240 is an ‘Alteration’. The law has defined an alteration as work that makes a “significant physical change to the configuration or composition of a building or structure.” That language comes from a 1998 Court of Appeals case called Joblon v. Solow, 91 N.Y.2d 457. In that case, the worker at issue normally performed routine maintenance work in an office building; the type of work that would not be covered under Section 240. But, at the time in question, the worker chiseled a hole through a concrete wall from a utility room into a mail room, in order to run an electrical wire to a clock he hung in the mail room. On those facts, the Court determined the worker was engaged in an ‘alteration’ as defined by the Statute. As such, when he fell from a ladder while performing that task, Labor Law Section 240 applied and imposed liability on the lessee and lessor (the ‘owners’) of the office building.

The lesson of the above case is this: if you have been injured in a work accident, and particular one in which you fell or an object fell on you, you should reach out to a construction accident lawyer right away. As you can see, even if you were not performing construction, renovation or demolition work, you still might be protected by Labor Law 240 and could potentially have a valuable personal injury case to pursue.

‘Alteration’ is only one example of non-construction work covered by the Labor Law. Another category is certain types of ‘repair’ work. You do not need to be repairing something in connection with a larger construction project. As long as you are repairing an object or item, as opposed to merely performing routine maintenance upon it, then you might very well be performing covered work under Section 240. For example, while merely cleaning the filter of an air conditioning unit is likely routine maintenance; replacing a component part of the same unit that does not routinely require replacement could be the type of repair that constitutes a covered activity. So, if you fall or are struck by an object while doing that type of work, Labor Law 240 could apply to impose liability and allow you to recover significant damages for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and/or medical expenses.

Important Appellate Case Handled by Block O’Toole & Murphy: Mananghaya v. Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center

Our firm handled a case that went up to the appellate division and helped establish what constitutes a covered alteration under Labor Law 240. The case is Mananghaya v. Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, 165 A.D.3d 117 (1st Dept. 2018). There, our client was tragically killed when he was crushed by a rented chiller unit that rested on the street adjacent to the defendant hospital. The project involved connecting hoses from the chiller unit to existing pipes on the hospital’s roof in order to provide better air conditioning during the summer. The lower court dismissed the case, finding that Section 240 did not apply because the project did not involve a significant change to the composition of the hospital.

Our firm, led by appellate attorney David L. Scher, argued that the project did significantly alter the hospital’s air conditioning system and thus our client should have the protections of the Labor Law. The appellate court agreed with our position, re-instated our client’s case, and established an important new legal precedent that will also help future injured workers. That case, handled by Partners Daniel P. O’Toole and Frederick Aranki, ultimately settled for $15 Million. It is a good example of a case that some other law firms may have turned down because, on its face, it did not necessarily appear as a case guaranteed to invoke the Labor Law’s protections. It also demonstrates why hiring a firm with particular experience and expertise in the Labor Law, and the will to fight and overcome adversity, can make all the difference in the world in terms of whether your case succeeds or fails.

What are the responsibilities of a contractor or owner, according to the law?

The law states that “all contractors and owners and their agents…shall furnish or erect…scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection to a person so employed.” This means that those who own or oversee a construction or other 240-covered project must provide and place proper equipment and devices so that the workers may do the job safely, whether that equipment is a sturdy scaffold or ladder, a proper hoist, solid temporary flooring and covers over openings, or whatever device is appropriate to allow the task at hand to be performed safely.

It is important to note that this law does not apply to “owners of one or two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work” (a family who hires a company to redo their roof, for example) and architects, engineers, or landscape architects who do not direct or control any of the work aside from planning and design.

The law firm of Block O’Toole & Murphy has the best track record in litigating construction accident lawsuits and is recognized for landmark verdicts and settlements in New York. Our Labor Law 240 case results include $15 million and $12 million settlements. For a FREE legal consultation, please call 212-736-5300.

Why is the Scaffold Law Important?

Labor Law 240 goes beyond the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA)’s regulations for safe scaffolding by imposing absolute liability. Absolute liability is not a term that is included in the actual text of the law, but over the years it has been interpreted to include this concept. In this context, absolute liability means that once a plaintiff establishes Labor Law 240 liability, the fault will be attributed to the proper Defendants by operation of law (i.e., the owner and/or general contractor). Also, New York is generally a comparative negligence state, meaning that in most other cases, fault can be attributed to both parties, or multiple parties, if it is found that more than one contributed to causing the accident. For example, in a two-car auto accident case, a jury may conclude that each driver was 50% at fault, which would result in the Plaintiff’s damages award being reduced by 50% (or whatever his/her percentage of fault is deemed to be). However, in Labor Law 240 cases, the Defendants are 100% responsible for the Plaintiff’s damages once the Plaintiff proves that Section 240 was violated and the violation was a proximate cause of his/her injuries.

Section 240 cases can be defended. For example, a worker’s Section 240 case will be dismissed if the defense can demonstrate that the plaintiff was the ‘sole proximate cause’ of the accident, or that the plaintiff was recalcitrant and caused the accident as a result. Recalcitrance, in this context, means that the Plaintiff refused or disobeyed an immediate and specific safety instruction and that disobedience was the sole cause of the accident.

Our firm has handled Labor Law 240 cases for many years and we know how develop the evidence required to put our clients in the best possible position to bring a successful case. There is simply no substitute for experience in this area of the law, which is constantly evolving as new decisions are issued.

The Importance of the Scaffold Law: Case Studies

Labor Law 240 protects workers who have been severely injured and would otherwise not be able to obtain compensation to cover the damages and expenses related to their accident. For example, we obtained a $15 million settlement for the surviving family of a 38-year-old HVAC technician who was tragically killed on the job. The deceased plaintiff (also known as the decedent) was hired to remove a 28,450-pound chiller unit from a hospital. He was not provided with the proper mechanical hoist needed to do this; instead, he used a hoist connected to a truck that a separate contractor brought. While lifting the chiller, the inadequate hoist broke, and the chiller fell and pinned the decedent to the wall, crushing him. Tragically, he left behind a wife and five children because of a completely preventable accident. Under Labor Law 240, we proved that the defendants had not provided the decedent with the proper equipment to complete his work, and we were able to secure compensation for his family.

The firm has handled numerous similar cases; another significant Labor Law 240 result was a $12 million settlement for a 45-year-old Local 147 Union tunnel worker. He fell 40 feet down a ventilation shaft when he tried unsuccessfully to stabilize a swaying crane basket. Unfortunately, plaintiff’s injuries were extensive: his arms, legs, and pelvis were fractured, he lost vision completely in one eye, and he suffered internal injuries. He required multiple surgeries and has been completely disabled from employment. The defendants argued that the accident was our client’s fault, as he had gone over the protective railing to try and stop the cage from swaying and, despite being instructed to do so, had not been wearing a safety harness. There was much contention in this case between the parties about whether safety harnesses had been available to our client and whether he had been given the proper safety instructions. We developed a successful case only after tireless work, including inspecting the site, sifting through thousands of pages of documents, taking dozens of depositions and working with one of our highly qualified construction accident experts to explain how the site was unsafe and contributed to our client’s accident.

Contact an Experienced Labor Law 240 Attorney Today

Labor Law 240 creates special protection for workers who need it most: those subjected to dangerous working conditions and who usually lack the sufficient power to dictate site safety. It also imposes liability on those who are in the best position to provide suitable protection: the site owner and general contractor.

Our lawyers are very well-versed in New York’s labor laws and have handled many cases in which Labor Law 240 played a prominent role. We advocate for the rights of workers, and many of our attorneys are involved in activities and organizations that protect worker safety. Partner Daniel O’Toole currently serves as co-chairman of the Labor Law Committee with the New York State Trial Lawyers Association (NYSTLA). Partner David Scher has taught, and continues to teach, various Continuing Legal Education courses on Labor Law 240, to share his expertise with the legal community. For the last five years, Mr. Scher has taught a well-attended lecture on strategies for winning construction accident cases, a topic that includes discussions of Labor Law 240.

Mr. Scher was also chosen to write an amicus curiae brief to the Court of Appeals on behalf of an organization that supports worker’s rights, and the result was a decision that expanded the protections offered by Labor Law Section 240. That case was Ortiz v. Varsity Holdings, 18 N.Y.3d 335 (2011).

Our firm has successfully handled many appeals over the years, including the one discussed above, that have helped define and expand the scope of the Labor Law’s protections. Our lawyers have also written extensively on the Scaffold Law and continue to stay informed on any potential changes or updates to it. Notable publications BOM lawyers have written include:

  • “Court of Appeals Refuses to Limit Scope of Labor Law Section 240(1),” New York Law Journal
  • “Recent Section 240(1) Decisions Offer Guidance,” New York Law Journal
  • “Still Debating What ‘Falls’ Within Labor Law Section 240(1),” New York Law Journal
  • “A Look Back At Runner v. New York Stock Exchange: What Did It Mean For Labor Law Section 240?,” Bill of Particulars

We have handled numerous cases that involve fighting for the client’s rights on the grounds of the Scaffold Law. Notable Labor Law 240 case results include:

  • $15,000,000 settlement for the wife and five children of an HVAC technician who was tragically killed when he was crushed by a falling 28,450-pound air chiller unit
  • $12,000,000 settlement for a union tunnel worker who fell 40 feet down a ventilation shaft and suffered various internal and external injuries that required multiple surgeries
  • $11,000,000 settlement for a masonry foreman who fell three stories to the basement of the building he was working in, after stepping through an unsecured hole cover
  • $9,750,000 settlement in a Long Island case for a laborer who sustained serious spinal and shoulder injuries after falling from an old and bent scaffold at a work site
  • $7,400,000 settlement for a union sheet metal worker who needed a spinal cord stimulator implant after he fell off a narrow beam three feet to the ground below
  • $7,000,000 settlement for a union carpenter who suffered facial fractures, neck pain, and ongoing psychological damage after he was struck in the face by a five-pound metal clamp
  • $6,500,000 settlement for a union mechanic who suffered multiple severe fractures after he fell 18-20 feet when the catwalk he was on collapsed
  • $6,080,408 verdict in a Manhattan case for a carpenter who was performing overhead work when the scaffold collapsed, causing him to fall seven to eight feet to the ground below
  • $6,000,000 settlement for an operating engineer who did not have any fall protection and fell 13 feet from inside a crane, leading to serious fractures and spinal injuries
  • $6,000,000 settlement for a union waterproofer who was not provided with any safety equipment and fell from a scaffold, resulting in herniated discs requiring surgery
  • $5,900,000 settlement for a union bricklayer who suffered multiple severe injuries, including post-concussion syndrome, after he fell 20 feet from a ladder with no safety equipment or harnesses
  • $5,885,000 verdict for an undocumented laborer who had to undergo both wrist and lumbar spine surgery after he fell from a ladder that had been placed on top of a wheeled scaffold
  • $5,500,000 settlement for an electrician who suffered serious brain injuries after he received an electric shock and fell 18-20 feet from a ladder with no safety harness
  • $5,000,000 settlement for a union worker who fell 30 feet to the ground when a piece of scaffolding broke free
  • $4,995,000 settlement for a 37-year-old laborer who sustained multiple broken bones after he fell 20 feet when the surface he was standing on collapsed; he was not provided with any safety equipment
  • $4,900,000 settlement for a union electrician who developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome after he fell from a wobbly ladder while trying to complete electrical work
  • $4,650,000 settlement for a day laborer who sustained multiple fractured ribs, as well as torn shoulder and hip tendons, after he stepped on cardboard he thought was plywood and fell 10-15 feet; he was not provided with safety equipment
  • $4,500,000 settlement for a carpenter who fell 10 feet from a ladder placed atop a scaffold, resulting in a brain bleed and other injuries that left him permanently disabled
  • $4,450,000 settlement for a worker who suffered spinal, shoulder, and brain injuries after he fell 15-20 feet from a forklift
  • $4,200,000 settlement for a worker who fell several feet from a ladder after one of the rungs broke, resulting in several herniated discs that required spinal surgery
  • $4,000,000 settlement for a 35-year-old worker who slipped and fell off a wet roof after being provided with no safety devices or harnesses; this fall led to a severe back injury
  • $4,000,000 settlement for a 33-year-old worker who required multiple ankle surgeries after he fell off a ladder that was not properly secured
  • $3,750,000 settlement for a 25-year-old worker who suffered serious back and shoulder injuries after he fell 30-40 feet from an unsecured ladder
  • $3,750,000 settlement for an electrician who suffered severe leg injuries after a 30-foot long steel beam fell on his left leg, crushing it
  • $3,720,000 settlement for a 28-year-old worker who was permanently disabled from construction work after he fell through an unsecured hole cover and sustained serious foot and ankle injuries
  • $3,600,000 settlement for a 29-year-old construction worker who was disabled from future work after he fell through a gap in an improperly planked scaffold
  • $3,300,000 settlement for a union laborer who was struck by falling angle irons when the hoist strap broke, leaving him with ankle and back injuries that both required surgery
  • $3,250,000 settlement for a plumber who was instructed to climb an unsecured ladder and fell, suffering permanent spine injuries. 
  • $3,250,000 settlement for a worker who suffered knee injuries after he fell through subway tunnel flooring that collapsed under him
  • $3,200,000 settlement for a 50-year-old worker who fell from a one-level scaffold and suffered shoulder, elbow, and spine injuries after he stepped on an unsecured scaffold plank
  • $3,200,000 settlement for a demolition worker whose foot fell through a rotting step at a construction site, leading to lower back, shoulder, and ankle injuries
  • $3,100,000 settlement for a worker who suffered a herniated disc that required surgery when he fell from a ladder onto his back
  • $3,075,000 recovery for a union plumber who required spinal fusion surgery after a load of gravel was dropped on him
  • $3,075,000 settlement for a boiler mechanic who fell from an inadequately secured ladder, resulting in herniated discs and shoulder injuries that required surgery
  • $3,000,000 settlement for a laborer who required a total of five surgeries after he fell eight feet onto concrete during a large renovation project
  • $3,000,000 settlement for an electrician’s helper who needed an ACL reconstruction after he fell 14-16 feet when the ladder and scaffold he was standing on collapsed
  • $3,000,000 settlement for a union electrician who needed spinal fusion surgery after he fell from an unsecured A-frame ladder on his work site
  • $3,000,000 settlement for an elevator technician who suffered multiple injuries to his shoulder, back, and elbow after he fell through a particleboard that was painted to look like a steel escape hatch
  • $2,900,000 settlement for an HVAC worker who sustained a variety of foot injuries after he fell from an unsecured ladder
  • $2,875,000 settlement for a 45-year-old welder who required both spinal and shoulder surgeries after he was struck in the back by a piece of wood that fell almost 20 feet
  • $2,850,000 settlement for a union laborer who fell and suffered serious injuries because he was not provided a safe way to go up the work platform
  • $2,750,000 settlement for an HVAC worker who fell 13 feet when the ladder he was on slid out from under him, resulting in a broken fibula and tibia
  • $2,700,000 settlement for a union roofer who injured his leg and lower back after he fell 15 feet from the roof he was working on
  • $2,650,000 settlement for a laborer who was knocked unconscious when a bundle of 60 metal scaffolding pieces fell on him, leading to herniated discs and multiple shoulder injuries
  • $2,600,000 settlement for a union demolition worker who suffered multiple severe injuries when the floor he was standing on collapsed under him and he was buried under concrete and debris where he landed
  • $2,500,000 settlement for an undocumented laborer who injured both his wrists and left foot when he fell from an 8-foot ladder that was not properly secured
  • $2,250,000 settlement for a building engineer who sustained back and knee injuries when he fell from unstable shelving that he was forced to stand on since he was not provided with a sufficiently tall ladder
  • $2,250,000 settlement for a 60-year-old window washer who sustained fractures to his left arm, pelvis, and hip after he fell 15-20 feet when the bolt that attached him to the outside of the window became disconnected
  • $2,250,000 settlement for an undocumented worker who needed lumbar fusion surgery after the floor he was standing on collapsed beneath him
  • $2,225,000 settlement for a carpenter foreman who suffered neck and back injuries after a steel-rated freight elevator door fell on him on a construction site
  • $2,200,000 settlement for a worker who fell partially through an uncovered opening in the floor while working on a demolition project, resulting in multiple herniated discs and shoulder injuries
  • $2,200,000 settlement for a plumber who sustained neck and back injuries when he fell from an extension ladder that was not nailed or tied down
  • $2,150,000 settlement for an HVAC worker who suffered comminuted fractures in his left wrist and foot that required surgery after he fell from an unsecured ladder
  • $2,000,000 settlement for a masonry laborer who sustained lumbar spine injuries after he fell 20 feet from a scaffold
  • $2,000,000 settlement for a union carpenter who suffered multiple injuries, including a brain hemorrhage, after he fell approximately 5 feet from unsecured steps
  • $2,000,000 settlement for a carpenter who was injured after a wooden form unexpectedly fell, causing him to hold onto it to prevent it from falling to the ground and potentially hitting a passerby
  • $1,975,000 settlement for a 35-year-old laborer who fell 10 feet from an unsecured beam without a safety harness, resulting in a need for back and shoulder surgery
  • $1,950,000 settlement for a union carpenter who suffered tears to his rotator cuff, among other injuries, when an unsecured 100-pound object fell on him
  • $1,900,000 settlement for a mason who sustained serious elbow injuries, which continue to cause him pain and limits his range of motion, after a serious ladder fall
  • $1,850,000 settlement for a 54-year-old worker who fell eight feet to the floor when the ladder he was using completely detached from the wall, resulting in lumbar spine injuries
  • $1,850,000 settlement for a worker who suffered serious back injuries after he fell on the job from a scaffold that was made slippery by water being sprayed in the work area
  • $1,750,000 settlement for a worker who required ORIF surgery to his right arm when the stilts he was supplied with broke, causing him to fall
  • $1,750,000 settlement for carpenter who endured two unsuccessful bone fusions in his foot after falling from the top of an unsafe ladder provided by his employer
  • $1,625,000 settlement for a 49-year-old mechanic who fractured five ribs, among other injuries, when the ladder he was using slid out from under him
  • $1,600,000 settlement for a worker who fell off a rolling scaffold when one of its wheels got caught in a hole in the floor that was not properly covered
  • $1,500,000 settlement for a 33-year-old union ironworker who suffered lumbar spine and left shoulder injuries when a large cage fell onto him, causing him to fall onto his back
  • $1,325,000 recovery for a 24-year-old carpenter who suffered multiple facial fractures, as well as knee and back injuries, when he fell from a ladder that was placed atop a rolling scaffold
  • $1,325,000 settlement for a painter who fell through a balcony’s metal grating when it collapsed under him, resulting in a burst fracture in his spine that required surgery
  • $1,275,000 settlement for a 37-year-old construction worker who sustained injuries to his left shoulder and elbow after he fell 10-12 feet through an uncovered floor opening
  • $1,250,000 settlement for a 29-year-old worker who suffered multiple injuries when the ladder he was standing on tipped over
  • $1,150,000 settlement for a 25-year-old worker who injured his left arm and elbow when he fell 20 feet while climbing down a scaffold
  • $1,100,000 settlement for a union ironworker who had to have parts of his fingers amputated when a 600-pound steel grate fell on his hand
  • $1,000,000 settlement for a 42-year-old worker who fractured his left leg and left arm when he fell 10-12 feet into a rock-filled hole
  • $1,000,000 settlement for a plumber who suffered a brain injury and wrist injuries after the ladder he was ascending fell out from under him

If you have been injured in a construction accident, scaffolding accident, or any worksite accident at all, the lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy are available to discuss your case. Call 212-736-5300 or fill out our online contact form for a FREE, no-obligation consultation with a knowledgeable attorney today.

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