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New York Worker Who Fell While Altering Billboard Was Entitled to Pursue Labor Law Complaint Against Landowner – Saint v. Syracuse Supply Company

Written May 6, 2015

A worker who is injured on the job can pursue a workers’ compensation claim against his or her employer without a showing of negligence on the employer’s behalf. In most on-the-job accident cases, workers’ compensation serves as an “exclusive remedy,” meaning that the employee is limited to the benefits that he or she receives through workers’ compensation, such as payment of medical expenses and partial reimbursement of lost wages through temporary and/or total disability benefits.

In some situations, however, an injured worker may be able to file a negligence lawsuit against a third party. A successful claimant in such a case may be able to receive compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and even punitive damages in particularly egregious cases. Such a case was recently on appeal before the New York Court of Appeals.

Allegations in the Plaintiff’s Complaint

In the case of Saint v. Syracuse Supply Company, a workman and his wife filed suit after the man was hurt while working on a billboard. The man was part of a three-person construction crew that was replacing an advertisement on a 59-foot high billboard in Erie County, New York, on a windy day. While on a lower rear catwalk, the man heard other crew members call for assistance. He went to the upper catwalk and, in order to get around one of the crew members, detached his lanyard from the catwalk’s safety cable. A strong gust of wind caused a piece of vinyl to hit the man and throw him to the lower catwalk, which was about 10 feet below. He allegedly landed with his back on an I-beam and his shoulder on the catwalk. He claimed to have suffered several herniated discs and a dislocated right shoulder in the accident.

The man and his wife sued the owner of the property upon which the billboard was located, asserting claims for violations of New York Labor Law §§ 240(1), 240(2) and 241(6) due to the lack of a safety railing surrounding the upper rear catwalk from which the man fell. The wife’s derivative claims sought compensation for loss of support and consortium. The property owner filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the man had not been engaged in an activity that was covered under the Labor Law. The man and his wife filed a cross motion for summary judgment on two of their claims. The trial court denied both motions. An appellate court reversed, granted summary judgment to the landowner, and dismissed the complaint.

The Decision of the New York Court of Appeals

On further appeal to the highest court of the state, the court reversed the intermediate appellate court’s decision, holding that the man had been engaged in alteration of the structure within the meaning of Labor Law § 240 (1) and that he had properly asserted claims for unprotected construction work under Labor Law §§ 240 (2) and 241(6) based on the lack of a guardrail on the billboard platform. In so holding, the court distinguished the instant case from Hatfield v Bridgedale, LLC, stating that the instant case involved alteration of the billboard’s dimensions in order to apply an advertisement, while the plaintiff in Hatfield was engaged only in maintenance work.

To Speak to an Experienced Long Island Injury Lawyer

If you or a family member has suffered personal injuries as the result of someone’s careless conduct, a knowledgeable attorney can help you as you seek to hold the responsible party financially liable. The New York law firm of Duffy & Duffy carefully investigates each case that it accepts, works hard to negotiate a reasonable settlement, and prepares cases for trial when necessary. To schedule an appointment, call (516) 394-4200 and ask for an initial consultation regarding your Nassau, Suffolk, or Kings County case.

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