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New York Ladder Accident Lawyers

construction worker on ladder

Ladder accidents and other gravity-related risks on construction sites typically fall under New York’s Labor Law 240, commonly known as the “Scaffold Law.” Labor Law 240 is a safety law, designed to promote worksite safety and protect construction workers who are unnecessarily exposed to safety hazards at the workplace. This law holds owners and contractors that hire construction companies responsible for ensuring the safe construction, operation, and placement of devices that these employees use to work at a height.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of a ladder accident, you should know that Labor Law 240 represents a unique body of case law—one with its own frame of reference and its own peculiarities and quirks. Retaining an attorney who does not have significant experience in Labor Law 240 may leave you vulnerable during the process—regardless of how much experience that attorney may have in other areas of construction.

The attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy are deeply familiar with Labor Law 240 and have extensive experience litigating Labor Law 240 cases from inception to verdict and appeal.  Lawyers at BOM thrive when fighting for an injured construction worker, confident in our ability to achieve excellent outcomes for our clients, in part because of our familiarity with the intricacies of this unique area of law. This has led to a strong track record of successful ladder accident resolutions, including a case we resolved for $8,750,000 on behalf of a client who suffered severe neurological damage after falling from a three-step ladder.

Need to Know:

  • Many misperceptions surround ladder accidents and prevent victims from achieving the results they need.
  • Labor Law 240 holds owners and contractors hiring construction companies fully responsible for worksite safety in ladder accident cases—even if the injured victim may have played some role in the accident.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the height of a ladder fall does not always impact a victim as much as other factors such as position and landing surface (concrete will have a different impact than loose earth).

In This Article:

New York Labor Laws That Apply to Ladder Accidents

Labor Law 240, unique to New York State, is also unusual among New York State laws in that comparative negligence on the part of the plaintiff is not a defense. This means that if a court can determine that Labor Law 240 applies in your case, and that the defendant committed a safety violation which led to your accident, the defendant will be held fully responsible for your accident—even if there was some negligence on your part.

Because Labor Law 240 deals specifically with situations involving working at a height, it is rare that a valid ladder accident case does not fall under its jurisdiction. In many ladder accident cases, our attorneys file an additional damages claim under Labor Law 241(6), which more broadly ensures “reasonable and adequate protection” for all workers on a construction site. This law deals with violations of industrial code 23, a section of which contains strict and specific laws on safe and proper ladder usage.  Making an additional claim under 241(6) protects the client’s ability to claim damages in the unlikely event that Labor Law 240 does not apply or its applicability remains an open question until trial.

However, Labor Law 241 is a more standard New York labor law which relies on the state’s principle of comparative negligence or “pure comparative fault,” meaning that it lacks Labor Law 240’s tactical advantage of holding the defendant fully responsible without regard to share of fault. Therefore, after a judge has concluded that the defendants have violated Labor Law 240, we typically will not pursue the alternative 241(6) claim.

Common Misperceptions About Ladder Falls

Ladder falls are among the most common types of construction accidents in America—and among the most misunderstood. Misperceptions about ladder accidents may affect how victims are perceived by others and whether they choose to pursue damages or not.

Unfortunately, misperceptions may also affect lawyers who are inexperienced with the implementation of Labor Law 240, impacting their clients for the worst.

Here are a few misconceptions which we see in ladder accident cases which hurt victims’ chances of recovery:

  • Many people assume that ladder accidents are only serious if the victim falls from a significant height, and therefore fail to take victims seriously if they have fallen from a shorter height of six feet or fewer.
    The truth is that many factors—from the position of the fall to the surface landed on to the physical health of the victim—have a greater impact on how a victim weathers a ladder accident than actual distance fallen. The accident victim in our $8,750,000 ladder case fell only three feet, but this seemingly innocuous fall led to devastating results.
  • Ladder accident victims may underestimate the power of Labor Law 240 by doubting that they can pursue damages if they used their own or their employer’s ladder at a work site.
    It is an unfortunate reality that ladders on construction sites are heavily prone to misuse. Under pressure by contractors and employers to stay on task and meet deadlines, employees tend to make use of the materials they have on hand when those that would be safest for a job are not made available. Therefore, the mere fact of not owning the ladder concerned in the accident does not absolve a general contractor from the responsibility of providing and maintaining a safe work environment, and such a case is well worth legal investigation.
  • Attorneys without experience in handling Labor Law 240 cases may overestimate the scope of this law, assuming that they will win a case merely because it is a ladder accident.
    In fact, there are unique complexities associated with the process of proving a Labor Law 240 case. A ladder fall does not, in itself, signal victory, creating liability on the part of the owner or contractor—an attorney should be prepared to do the work of demonstrating that the ladder was unsafely used or implemented. On occasion, an attorney may require the services of a seasoned expert witness to increase the likelihood of success when establishing that the defendants are legally responsible for the ladder accident. He or she should also be prepared to meet defenses such as the recalcitrant worker defense and the sole proximate cause defense.

Case Study: Worker Who Fell Five Feet Sustained Serious Leg Injuries

Hear a former client discuss how our attorneys handled his ladder accident case, which resolved for $3.625 million.

In one case that was settled by Block O’Toole & Murphy for $3,625,000, our client, a young construction worker, was about five feet off the ground when the bottom of the extension ladder he was using “kicked out” due to an absence of foot grips, causing him to slip from the rung he was standing on.

Under ordinary circumstances, a healthy 22-year-old like our client might have shaken off such a short fall, even onto concrete. However, as our client fell, his foot was caught in the rungs of the ladder, causing him to fracture and twist his ankle so severely that when EMTs opened his pants leg to reveal the injury, they found that his bone was exposed.

This case illustrates just one possible example of why the height of a fall may be far less predictive of injury than the manner of the fall. Factors ranging from the position of the victim upon landing to what kind of surface the victim landed on to whether the victim saw the fall coming (and therefore had time to brace his or her self against impact) tend to influence the extent and nature of damage more than the actual distance fallen.

Block O’Toole & Murphy has achieved some of its most significant ladder accident results in instances where victims fell a short distance of six or fewer feet. Many of these clients fell with no warning, or with a limited opportunity to prepare themselves for an unexpected fall, and were therefore injured more severely than they might have been with more time to react, regardless of how far they fell.

Common Defenses in Ladder Accident Cases

The two most common defenses in ladder accident cases place sole responsibility for negligence on the victim, deeming him or her the sole proximate cause or a recalcitrant worker.

  • A recalcitrant worker is one who refuses to follow the specific safety directions given to him or her without a sound reason, or who ignores safety measures present on the site which, if used properly, would have prevented the accident from occurring. A defense may claim to have ensured that employees had adequate means of working safely, only for the ladder accident victim to disregard these protective measures. For instance, if the victim fell after using a ladder that was not adequate to the task at hand, a defendant could claim to have provided the correct ladder, which the victim willfully did not use, despite being directed to do so. Careful investigation of the site and circumstances is key to overcoming such defenses. For instance, coworkers may be able to testify that the safety devices indicated were not available, or that their presence was not made known to employees.
  • The sole proximate cause is a construction site accident victim who is solely responsible for his or her accident. For instance, an A-frame ladder (the type shaped like a capital A) is meant to be used in an open position, allowing it to stand upright while balancing the weight of a climber. Therefore, if a worker stands on an A-frame ladder while it is unopened and leaning against a wall, a defense may deem that worker the sole proximate cause of any accident that occurs as a result.

Such cases raise the question of why the accident victim was working in an unsafe fashion, and whether any satisfactory explanation for his or her actions exists. For example, if the layout of the room meant that the only way to access the work area was by leaning the ladder against the wall, the employee’s actions seem far less reckless.

An attorney who is knowledgeable about Labor Law understands that context matters, and that any number of circumstances could influence whether a worker might be accurately considered responsible under either of these defenses. For example, take the seemingly simple case above, in which a worker uses an unopened A-frame ladder to accomplish a goal that is impossible while the ladder is being used safely. Let’s say that a safely-assembled scaffold was present on the site, which could have served the same purpose as the misused ladder. In such a case, the behavior of the plaintiff might seem more difficult to justify. But suppose, at the time of the accident, the scaffold was occupied—say, in another room, being used by the plaintiff’s coworkers to paint a ceiling?

As this situation hopefully makes clear, it is essential to retain an attorney experienced in Labor Law 240 and familiar with the applicable laws, who will appreciate the import of a thorough investigation. Victims who fear that they may bear a share of responsibility for their accident should continue to keep in mind that a safety violation on the part of the defendant may render them responsible under Labor Law 240, and that this remains true even if the victim failed to be totally attentive to ladder safety in the moments before the accident.

In one case that Block O’Toole & Murphy handled, our client, a sign installer, was working at the top of an A-frame ladder with a foot on either side of the ladder—straddling the top of the A—when he fell. Because the job he had been given required him to hold a drill with both hands, this unusual stance was the only way that he could maintain his balance.

Unfortunately, no measures had been taken to secure the bottom of the ladder. (Earlier that day—when a coworker had marked the places where he was to use the drill—our client had stood on the ground and held the ladder in place himself.) The drill hit an obstruction, causing our client to lose his balance and fall 8-10 feet to the ground. His injuries resulted in nerve damage and required six separate surgeries to his ankle, including an ankle fusion surgery.

The defense claimed that the client placed the ladder improperly and behaved improperly in straddling the ladder, and therefore was the sole proximate cause of his accident. However, it was clear to partners Stephen J. Murphy and Michael J. Hurwitz, who handed the case, that the ladder itself was inadequate to the work that our client had been assigned to do that day. The court agreed with their assessment of the situation, and by gaining summary judgement on the case, we were able to settle for $4,000,000 on the client’s behalf.

Case Study: $8,750,000 For Worker Who Fell from Three-Step Ladder

Most ladder accident cases, whatever challenges they may present, have a readily-discernible path to attaining clarity: the location and the business involved are known facts going in, and attorneys can find witnesses and potential defendants from there. In one of the most complicated ladder accident cases Block O’Toole & Murphy ever dealt with, however, the claim that our client had fallen off a ladder was the only information that our firm had to go on. The handling attorney on the case had to go to great lengths to confirm even this information, which came directly from the accident victim.

Our client, an undocumented immigrant from Poland, lived with his grandmother, who was his only other relative in the area. She called Block O’Toole & Murphy attorney Pawel Wierzbicki, who is now a partner of the firm, to explain that her grandson had come home from his construction job a year earlier, badly impaired by injuries to his head, cervical spine, and shoulder, and able to tell her only that he had been in a work accident.

While our client remembered that he had fallen off a ladder, he no longer knew the name of the company nor the location where he had been working at the time of the accident. Following the accident, he was unable to work, and his grandmother cared for him at home for a full year before getting in contact with us.

Wierzbicki, who handled the case along with partner Daniel O’Toole, was tireless in his pursuit of answers. He first sat down with our client, attempting to pinpoint—using Google Maps—the area of Manhattan where he had worked. Our client’s memory was so affected by the neurological damage he had suffered, however, that he remained unable to place the location, even with this close assistance.

Undaunted, Wierzbicki began filing requests for medical records from Manhattan hospitals. Eventually, a hospital on the Upper West Side responded to Wierzbicki’s request with a full ambulance call report from the date of the incident. Our client—who had been taken to the hospital from the accident scene—had resisted help, wanting to leave as soon as possible. He had been combative with staff, cursing them out and nearly causing them to call security, before discharging himself and going home to his grandmother’s house. The staff on duty at the time had questioned his sanity. In truth, our client, newly-injured and understandably frightened, had been exhibiting a common symptom of brain damage. Statements in the ambulance call report also backed our client’s testimony that he had fallen off a ladder.  

Thanks to this documentation, Wierzbicki was able to find the company that had employed the victim, but a new challenge emerged. Because our client had been paid off the record—in other words, illegally—at $15 an hour, his company initially denied having employed him at all. Even as investigation went on and revealed new testimony from our client’s coworkers and supervisor at the time, forcing the admission that he had indeed worked for the company, his former employers maintained that he had suffered a seizure while on the worksite and had not been on any ladder at the time. Wierzbicki obtained worker’s compensation for our client as soon as it was possible to do so, while continuing to lead his case to trial. A cross-examination of a former coworker of our client helped to complete our picture of the inciting incident—a fall from a three-step ladder while our client was pulling an electrical cord through a drop ceiling.

Proving that the accident had occurred, and that it had resulted in our client’s injuries, was far from the only struggle the team faced during litigation. Shortly after our client was deposed, he suffered a seizure while at our offices and was hospitalized for months on end. This time, he was examined closely and found to have antiphospholipid syndrome, an autoimmune condition so rare that when Wierzbicki retained an expert on the syndrome to testify on behalf of our client, he found that it was the same expert that the hospital had called in to help confirm the diagnosis.

Antiphospholipid syndrome, or APS, can exist for years without any symptoms, as it had existed for our client, before being triggered by trauma. After extensive trial preparation, including the retention of the APS expert to testify to how our client’s injuries were triggered by this accident, we secured an $8,750,000 settlement for our client on the eve of trial.

Throughout the case, our handling attorneys evinced not only determination and attention to detail, but great care for our client and his family. Wierzbicki—who is bilingual in English and Polish and played an invaluable role in breeching the communication barrier, as he has for many other Polish clients—worked with O’Toole to obtain a guardian for our client, enabling him to receive the payments that he did. Wierzbicki and O’Toole additionally convinced the worker’s compensation carrier to waive its entire worker’s compensation lien of $1,252,447, while keeping our client’s medical benefits—valued at $20,000,000—open. Their steps ensured that our client would be cared for for the rest of his life.

Block O’Toole & Murphy: Leading the Way in Labor Law 240 Ladder Accident Recoveries

The existence of Labor Law 240 significantly raises the odds of a successful outcome for ladder accident victims who retain an attorney with proper experience. In fact, some ladder cases have been so successful that they represent, in themselves, a pitfall for inexperienced attorneys, who may believe they are bound to achieve success on a ladder accident case and therefore fail to do the work of adequately responding to possible defenses.

With extensive experience in Labor Law 240, our attorneys possess a notable track record of ladder accident verdicts and settlements, including:

  • $5,900,000 for a bricklayer who fell during a school renovation project when the ladder slid out from under him
  • $5,500,000 for an electrician who was not provided with fall protection when he climbed a 28-foot aluminum extension ladder
  • $5,000,000 verdict for an electrician helper who fell 12 feet to the ground when the ladder slipped
  • $4,900,000 for an electrician who fell from a wobbly ladder while working on a school’s HVAC system
  • $4,200,000 for union plasterer who fell from an A-frame ladder when a rung broke free
  • $3,750,000 for a non-union laborer who fell from an unsecure ladder positioned on a second-level roof
  • $3,500,000 for a plumber’s helper who sustained a traumatic brain injury after fall from a 12-foot A-frame ladder
  • $3,250,000 for a plumber who fell from an unsecured ladder and suffered permanent spine injuries that required multiple surgeries
  • $3,100,000 for a worker who was using a drill to install a camera when the ladder started to wobble and he was caused to fall
  • $3,000,000 for a carpenter who struck his head and wrist as a result of a ladder fall during a Midtown East luxury apartment project
  • $2,900,000 for an HVAC worker who fell when the ladder became unstable at a Manhattan hospital
  • $2,750,000 settlement in Nassau County case for worker who fell 13 feet from an extension ladder
  • $2,400,000 for a laborer working on oil, water, and fuel lines at a Queens building when his ladder suddenly slid out from under him
  • $2,200,000 for a plumber’s assistant who fell approximately 7 feet to the ground when his ladder became unsteady
  • $1,900,000 for an HVAC installer who fell from an 8-foot unsecured A-frame ladder, resulting in serious spine and shoulder injuries
  • $1,750,000 for carpenter with severe heel injury who fell from a six-foot-tall ladder, which was known by his employer to be rickety and unstable
  • $1,750,000 for a worker who was told to paint a ceiling beam and fell to the ground from his ladder atop a scaffold
  • $1,725,000 for a welder injured in a ladder fall during a new construction project in the Bronx
  • $1,325,000 for a carpenter who fell from a ladder while attempting to patch a section of a wall with sheet rock
  • $1,250,000 for an electrician struck by machinery while working on a ladder
  • $1,250,000 for a refrigeration apprentice who fell to the sidewalk from an extension ladder
  • $1,175,000 settlement for a HVAC mechanic who fell when the top of his extension ladder began to slide and tip over
  • $1,000,000 for a plumber who fell as a result of an unsecured ladder at a two-story Nassau County building

Our attorneys serve all five boroughs of New York City as well as the entirety of New York State. Contact the attorneys at 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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