Window Cleaner Died While “Cleaning” Within Meaning of NY’s “Scaffold Law”, Labor Law § 240(1), Court Holds

In Domaszowec v. Residential Mgmt. Grp. LLC, No. 16697, 2016 WL 208299 (N.Y. App. Div. Jan. 19, 2016), the First Department held that the plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment on her Labor Law § 240(1) claim.

Labor Law § 240(1), the so-called “Scaffold Law”, provides in pertinent part:

All contractors and owners and their agents … in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure shall furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection to a person so employed. (Emphasis added.)

While the statute offers considerable protection to workers, it still imposes various conditions that must be met in order for it to apply. For example, a plaintiff seeking to invoke it must have been engaged in one of the listed activities as those terms have been interpreted by the courts. Thus, “cleaning” in the traditional sense – which one online dictionary defines broadly as “the activity of removing the dirt from things and places, especially in a house” – is not necessarily the type of “cleaning” contemplated by the statute.

Turning back to the Domaszowec case, the court held:

[P]laintiff, whose decedent fell to his death while cleaning a window on the 13th floor of an apartment building, is entitled to summary judgment on her Labor Law § 240(1) claim as against 40 Fifth defendants, the owner and manager of the building. The decedent was hired by two shareholders of the residential cooperative, and had a long-standing arrangement with the building to clean its windows. Thus, contrary to the motion court’s finding, he was engaged in “commercial window washing,” involving “heightened elevation-related risks,” as opposed to “routine, household window washing.” (Emphasis added.)

It cites the Court of Appeals case of Soto v. J. Crew, Inc., which held that the plaintiff, who was injured when he fell from a ladder while dusting a 6-foot-high display shelf, was not engaged in “cleaning” within the meaning of § 240(1).