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Third Dept. Dismisses NY Scaffold Law Claim Where Elevation Differential Is Not “Physically Significant” Enough

Case Study

Third Dept. Dismisses NY Scaffold Law Claim Where Elevation Differential Is Not “Physically Significant” Enough

June 4, 2015
William J. Greagan

William J. Greagan and Matthew S. Lerner, partners in Goldberg Segalla’s General Liability and Appellate Practice Groups, obtained dismissal of a New York Labor Law § 240(1) claim against a construction company in the New York Appellate Division, Third Department. The dismissal of the claim — brought under New York’s plaintiff-friendly and controversial “Scaffold Law,” which can impose absolute liability on owners and contractors for elevation-related construction accidents — creates favorable caselaw for the defense of cases in which the weight and distance of a falling object is not significant enough to trigger liability.

In this case, the plaintiff was injured when an out-of-use scaffold frame fell onto him while he worked on a construction site in Saratoga Springs, New York. Under Labor Law § 240(1), an elevation-related risk arises where the elevation differential is “physically significant,” but under the 2009 Runner v. New York Stock Exchange decision, even small distances may sometimes pose an elevation-related risk in the eyes of the court.

Our team successfully argued that the trial court should have dismissed this claim because the distance the frame fell — only two feet — and the amount of force it was capable of generating when it struck the plaintiff were not significant, and the Third Department ruled accordingly. Precedent required the Third Department to reinstate the plaintiff’s other claims, leaving the lower court to decide at a future date negligence issues related to supervisory control over the plaintiff and his work.

The dismissal of the Labor Law § 240(1) cause of action, however, significantly reduces the defendant’s potential exposure in this matter and provides the defense bar with additional ammunition to chip away at the Runner precedent and combat claims brought under this section of the Scaffold Law.