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Appellate Court Affirms Decision Dismissing Claim Against Trailer Owner

Case Study

Appellate Court Affirms Decision Dismissing Claim Against Trailer Owner

January 23, 2023
James M. Specyal

A trial court’s decision dismissing a labor-law claim against a Goldberg Segalla client — sued by a worker injured while repairing a flatbed trailer — has been affirmed by a New York appellate court.

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, agreed with arguments put forth by Goldberg Segalla attorney James Specyal who maintained the plaintiff’s injury occurred during activity not protected within state labor law, and as such, the firm’s client should not be held liable.

The plaintiff, a certified diesel technician, was injured on the premises of a recycling plant while installing an air tank on a flatbed trailer’s brake system. He used a front-end loader to lift the trailer, but the loader rolled backward and dropped the trailer onto him.

The plaintiff, who sued to recover damages for his injuries, contended he was engaged in a protected activity because the replacement of the air tank constituted a “repair,” and was an enumerated activity within the labor law statute. He also maintained the flatbed trailer was “a production, or piece of work artificially built up, or composed of parts,” and, therefore, was a “structure” within the meaning of labor law.

At the time of the incident, there was no construction or renovation project ongoing at the plant.

James — an attorney in Goldberg Segalla’s Appellate, and Civil Litigation and Trial practice groups —argued that even if the plaintiff’s labor constituted repair work, it was not covered under labor law because “vehicle repair work” outside a construction context in this case is not the type of work the statute was designed to address.

James also argued that finding the plaintiff’s repair work, in this case, to be covered by the statute would run contrary to previous rulings by the state Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court.

Although its ruling was not unanimous, the appellate court agreed with James and affirmed the lower court decision to dismiss the claim against Goldberg Segalla’s client. That initial ruling was handed down in state Supreme Court, Chautauqua County.