When construction workers are injured on the job, they are usually unable to bring personal injury lawsuits against the most obviously responsible party, their employers, due to the Workers’ Compensation Law. Fortunately, New York’s legislature enacted New York’s Labor Laws, designed to protect construction workers who often do not have control over their working conditions. The Labor Laws, specifically, Labor Law 240 and 241(6), provide that the building owner and general contractor may be held liable for injuries to construction workers, even when the owner and general contractor have no direct involvement in the incident. The goal of the legislation is to shift the burden of such injuries away from the powerless workers and State (who support injured workers through public assistance programs, if they cannot return to work) and onto the parties with both the financial means to pay (insurance) and the ability to control the work environment.
When pursuing a Labor Law claim, it is extremely important to have an attorney who can identify the proper parties to sue. Information such as who holds the deed for a property may be available online (in New York City, via the ACRIS system) or at local county record keeping offices. In cases involving apartment buildings, though, this is just the first step. Next, the attorney must determine whether the building is a rental building, a condominium or a housing cooperative (coop), to determine the proper party to sue. This can be very complicated and can lead to suing the wrong party, if the investigation is not thorough. For example, in a recent First Department Appellate Division case, Jerdonek v. 41 West 72 LLC, et al. (Index No. 590726/10), the Court found that one defendant could not be held liable under Labor Law because it had converted the building to condominiums, after which a different entity, the Board of Members, was given ownership of the boiler room where the accident occurred. As another example, when there is a lawsuit based on an accident that occurred within an apartment in a coop, the individual coop owner residing in the apartment is usually exempt from the Labor Law, but the coop board is not.
It is equally crucial to identify the general contractor. Sometimes, the general contractor will have signage at the construction site advertising their presence, making this determination easy. Otherwise, permits and other records can be searched at government offices to identify the general contractor. Even this, though, can be difficult, as, on more than one occasion, the general contractors listed on permit applications have taken the position that despite the listing, they were just used for paperwork and were not the real general contractor, a defense that has been permitted by the Court.
Overall, the important thing to appreciate is that a sophisticated attorney is crucial to success when bringing a Labor Law claim arising from a construction accident. Trief & Olk regularly represents individuals injured on construction sites in a wide variety of circumstances. If you have been injured in a construction accident, contact Trief & Olk by telephone or via our website’s submission form to find out more about how Trief & Olk can help you.