Friedman, Hirschen & Miller, LLP

Under New York law, a contractor must provide proper protection to people working on a construction project. The failure to do so, if it leads to a personal injury, may mean the company is liable for the injuries, as the recent case of Hoffman v. SJP TS, LLC demonstrates.

Swaying equipment leads to accident

The victim worked as a glazier—a person who fits glass into buildings during construction work. The victim had been assigned to caulk windows that were more than 30 feet above the ground. To accomplish this task, the victim was provided with a piece of construction equipment called a mobile scissor lift, with a platform about 10 feet long. However, there was a curb around the building which kept the platform from being close to the windows, leaving a gap of about three feet and forcing the victim to reach over to complete his work.

At one point, the equipment swayed and the victim fell all the way to the ground, sustaining serious injuries. Although he had been provided with a safety harness, he had been told not to connect it to the lift, which also fit with the procedures he had followed on past jobs. If the victim had been provided with a "boom lift" piece of equipment, rather than the scissor lift, he would have been able to hook his safety harness to the equipment.

As the lawsuit began, the victim asked for a summary judgment—which would immediately resolve the case in the victim's favor, based on the evidence. The victim argued that, under the applicable New York statute, the defendant-company should have provided him with an appropriate safety device—the boom lift—in order to complete his work.

The lower court, in reviewing the standard of the applicable statute, held that the victim had failed to offer proof that the scissor lift failed to perform its function of supporting the victim and, thus, the company had not, as a matter of law, violated the statute. The victim appealed.

An inadequate safety device

In reviewing the decision on appeal, the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, of New York noted that, while there was no specific defect in the scissor lift itself as a piece of equipment, it was still clearly inappropriate for use in this task, since the configuration of the building kept the lift from being close enough for the work, leaving a three-foot gap 35 feet in the air.

The company's argument that there were issues that should be tried in front of a jury was not persuasive, since they had failed to give the victim an adequate safety device to complete his work. In addition, while the victim had a safety harness, there was no appropriate place to tether it on the equipment provided, leading to his injury from the fall. Thus, the decision of the lower court was reversed in favor of the victim.

When negligence leads to injury

If you or a loved one suffer a serious injury due to a fall caused by the negligence of another—whether it is on a construction project, or simply walking down an icy sidewalk—those responsible for the condition leading to the injury should be held accountable. It is important that you contact an attorney with a wealth of experience in seeking compensation in such cases, who can pursue the compensation you deserve.