WTC Worker Who Fell Down Stairway Entitled to Summary Judgment on Labor Law § 240(1) Claim

In O’Brien v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J. (App. Div. 1st Dept. Sept. 8, 2015), the Appellate Division, First Department held that plaintiff – an operating engineer at the World Trade Center Freedom Tower construction site – was entitled to summary judgment on his claim under Labor Law § 240(1).

Plaintiff was injured when he “slipped and fell down a steel staircase while he was attempting to walk down to the supply shanty.”

From the decision:

Plaintiff is entitled to partial summary judgment on his Labor Law § 240(1) claim. … [P]laintiff was engaged in a covered activity at the time he slipped and fell down the stairs of a temporary tower scaffold. A fall down a temporary staircase is the type of elevation-related risk to which section 240(1) applies, and the staircase, which had been erected to allow workers access to different levels of the worksite, is a safety device within the meaning of the statute[.] … It is irrelevant whether the structure constituted a staircase, ramp, or passageway since it was a safety device that failed to afford him proper protection from a gravity-related risk. …

The fact that the affidavits of plaintiff’s and defendant’s experts conflict as to the adequacy and safety of the temporary stairs does not preclude summary judgment in plaintiff’s favor. A plaintiff is entitled to partial summary judgment on a section 240(1) claim where, as here, stairs prove inadequate to shield him against harm resulting from the force of gravity, and his injuries are at least in part attributable to the defendants’ failure to take mandated safety measures to protect him against an elevation-related risk. Plaintiff’s expert opined, inter alia, that the stairs showed obvious signs of longstanding use, wear and tear; therefore, a decrease in anti-slip properties was to be expected. Given that it is undisputed that the staircase, a safety device, malfunctioned or was inadequate to protect plaintiff against the risk of falling, plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment, whatever the weather conditions might have been.

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