There Really Is a Limit to the Reach of Injured Worker Claims

It sometimes seems that any serious injured worker claim turns into a lawsuit against all the “usual suspects” other than the worker’s employer. And those other companies must then defend themselves, on occasion from a claim that can’t be supported on the facts.

A New York appellate court recently made short shrift of such a claim. Of course, “short shrift” means after the lawsuit was filed and the trial court had issued a decision. But at least the appellate court confirmed in a simple and concise decision.

The injured worker was a stone tender. He and his supervisor were using nylon straps to “move an 8-by-4-foot, 500-to-600-pound granite stone a distance of approximately 4 feet.” His supervisor slipped, and the plaintiff was injured when the stone dropped on his foot, causing him to fall.

The subsequent lawsuit was against the general contractor, a joint venture, and each of the companies comprising the JV. Claims included alleged violations of New York Labor Law §§ 200 and 240(1). The trial court dismissed the NY Labor Law and common law negligence claims against the JV, and the appellate court confirmed.

The appellate court noted that the JV and its members would be liable under the NY Labor Law “only if [they] had the authority to supervise or control the performance of the work.” In this case, the JV established that “the plaintiff's injuries arose solely out of the manner of his employer's work and the [JV] exercised no supervisory control over that work.” And the JV’s “authority to monitor safety conditions at the work site is merely indicative of their ‘general supervision and coordination of the work site’ and is insufficient to trigger liability.”

Even under the NY Labor Law, which puts more liability on project owners and prime contractors than would exist at common law, the GC in this setting would not be liable. An apt outcome, given the manner of the worker’s injury. The case is Portalatin v Tully Constr. Co.- E.E. Cruz & Co., 2017 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 7797 (Nov. 8, 2017).