Court Upholds Jury Verdict for Plaintiff in Elevator Accident Case

In Brownrigg v. New York City Hous. Auth. (decided July 2, 2014) – a construction/elevator-accident case – the Appellate Division, Second Department denied defendants’ CPLR 4404 motion, and upheld the jury’s verdict that defendants were liable under New York Labor Law §§ 200 and 241(6). 

In this case,

plaintiff and his coworker, both elevator mechanics, were repairing one of two elevators sharing a common shaftway in a building, while the other elevator remained in operation. Upon returning to the elevators after making a telephone call, the plaintiff summoned the operational elevator, stepped part of the way into it, looked up into the shaftway, and called out to his coworker, who was on top of the cab of the elevator being repaired, to ask on which floor the coworker was working. As the coworker turned to answer, he knocked a tool off the top of that elevator’s cab and the tool fell, injuring the plaintiff’s right eye.

Plaintiff argued that the defendant violated the asserted Labor Law sections by failing to install a vertical barrrier betwen the two elevators sharing the shaftway in which he was working.

Labor Law § 200

“To be held liable pursuant to Labor Law § 200 in a case such as this, where the claim arises out of the methods or means of the work, a defendant must have had authority to supervise or control the work.” The court held that a fair interpretation of the evidence and a valid line of reasoning supported the jury’s finding that the defendant had the authority to supervise or control the work.

Labor Law § 241(6)

“Labor Law § 241(6) imposes a nondelegable duty of reasonable care upon owners and contractors to provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety’ to persons employed in, or lawfully frequenting, all areas in which construction, excavation or demolition work is being performed.”

Plaintiff asserted, as a predicate basis for his 241(6) claim, defendants’ violation of Industrial Code 23-2.5(b)(3). That section, which is part of the portion of the Industrial Code relating to the “Protection of persons in shafts”, provides:

Where any elevator is being installed, repaired or replaced and persons are working in the shaft, a solid or wire mesh partition shall be provided where necessary to prevent such persons from contacting any adjacent operable elevator or counterweight.

Here, since it was “undisputed that no solid or wire mesh was provided in this instance, and that, had such mesh been provided, the plaintiff would have been protected from the hazard presented by tools falling down the elevator shaft”, the court held that “both a valid line of reasoning and a fair interpretation of the evidence supported the jury’s finding that the defendant violated Labor Law § 241(6).”

Prejudgment Interest – Computed From Date of Jury’s Liability Determination

Finally, the court held that the trial court erred in computing prejudgment interest from the date of the jury verdict on the issue of damages, since liability was not then established. The trial court should have computed prejudgment interest fromthe date that liability was determined by the jury.

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