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New York City Agency Found Not Liable in Construction Accident

Case Study

New York City Agency Found Not Liable in Construction Accident

A Kings County jury has found a New York City agency not liable in a highly publicized construction-accident case whose plaintiff initially demanded $25 million for injuries he sustained in the accident.

The January 25, 2019, verdict capped an emotional four-week trial throughout which the plaintiff remained on his feet, even while testifying, because of his injuries.

Defending the New York City Department of Environmental Protection against the sympathetic plaintiff and his emboldened counsel were Goldberg Segalla’s William T. O’Connell, a partner based in White Plains and co-chair of the firm’s Appellate practice, and Emilio F. Grillo, a partner based in New York City and co-chair of the General Liability practice.

The case stemmed from an eight-and-a-half-year-old construction-site accident in Brooklyn in September 2010. Then a 41-year-old construction-company employee and labor foreman, the plaintiff was badly injured while working on a $210 million sewer-upgrade project for the city’s environmental protection department through a contract with his employer. As he was setting up a low-air pressure test on a 330-foot sewer main with a rubber plug inserted in one end, the plug exploded, throwing him 25 feet through the air, across the work pit and into a 20-foot steel I-beam shoring up the pit’s interior.

Among the injuries the man sustained in the accident were a potentially life-threatening open-book pelvic fracture; a complex tibia-fibula fracture with non-union torn ligaments in both knees requiring multiple ligament reconstruction surgeries; and hearing loss. The man underwent 21 surgeries. He sued New York City’s environmental protection department for alleged Labor Law violations, all but one of which previously had been dismissed and their dismissals affirmed on appeal.

The case had an interesting legal twist. Although the Brooklyn-based trial court applied the minority Second Department rule that the standard for “means and methods” liability under Labor Law Section 200 is whether the defendant had the “authority” to supervise or control the means and methods of the plaintiff’s injury-producing work instead of the “actual supervision” standard applied in the First, Third and Fourth departments and the Court of Appeals, the jury unanimously found that the environmental protection department did not even have the authority to supervise or control the plaintiff’s work.