February 2012 Labor Law Update

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The Court of Appeals has held that a laborer injured after falling from a ladder while he was “cleaning” a “structure” in his employer’s factory is not entitled to the protections of Labor Law section 240(1).  In their decision in the case of Dahar v. Holland Ladder, et. al., the Court decided that, although the facts of this matter seemed to fall squarely within the statutory language of section 240(1), applying the protections of the statute in the case at bar would extend the statute beyond its’ intended purpose.

The plaintiff in Dahar was an employee of West Metal Works and he was tasked with cleaning a seven floor high module before it was shipped out of his employer’s factory to the purchaser.  In order to clean the module, the plaintiff climbed a ladder which subsequently broke causing the plaintiff to fall and be injured.   Suit was commenced and the plaintiff’s allegations were quite simple- I was injured while “cleaning” a “structure” and the ladder provided failed to provide me “proper protection”, therefore this is a 240(1) case.  When reading those allegations in conjunction with the text of section 240(1) it appears that, if the allegations were accepted as true, the claim would fall within the Labor Law.

In ruling against the plaintiff, the Court does not appear to disagree with the plaintiff’s phrasing of his argument which would apparently result in a victory.  However, the Court ruled against the plaintiff saying his argument was “too simple” and would lead to an impermissible expansion of section 240(1).  The Court goes on to point out that despite the vast number of section 240(1) cases that have come through New York’s courts, they found only one that involved “cleaning” anything but a building window.  The Court seems to conclude that the lack of any similar scenarios in all the prior cases is proof that this case would take the section 240(1) protections beyond their intended scope.  Bottom line, if you are going to fall while cleaning a structure, make sure you have a bottle of Windex in your hand.  To see the entire decision, please click here.