Ladders Are Affected by Gravity Too

Usually, when encountering a Labor Law § 240(1) case, we’re reading a fact pattern which shows plaintiff falling from a ladder, or some other object falling from a significant elevation differential on to plaintiff.  In this case from the Fourth Department, we have a rare instance where the object falling onto plaintiff is the ladder.

In Vasquez v. Gilbane Building Company, et al., 2024 NY Slip Op 00519 (4th Dep’t 2024), plaintiff alleges she sustained injuries while working as a laborer when a 32-foot-long ladder that had been leaning against a wall fell, hitting her on the head and left shoulder.  According to plaintiff, the ladder fell due to ground vibrations created by heavy demolition debris falling in the vicinity of the ladder.

Plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability on her Labor Law § 240(1) claim, and defendants cross-moved for summary judgment.  The Supreme Court, Erie County granted plaintiff’s motion with respect to § 240(1) and denied defendants’ cross motions. 

After trial on damages, the defendants appealed, and that appeal from final judgment, as the Fourth Department noted, brought up for review the non-final order resolving the parties’ respective motions and cross-motions for summary judgment.  On appeal, defendants argued that Labor Law § 240(1) is inapplicable to the fact pattern because the ladder that fell on to plaintiff was not in use at the time of the accident.    

In its decision, the Fourth Department rejected the defendants’ argument outright.  It noted that Labor Law § 240(1) requires a determination of whether the injury sustained is the type of elevation-related hazard to which the statute applied, and that liability is not limited to cases in which the falling object was in the process of being hoisted or secured.  Plaintiff submitted evidence that she was struck by a 32-foot-long extension ladder that was folded leaning against a wall and that the ladder was “heavy duty.”  Moreover, when the ladder struck plaintiff, it caused her to fall to the ground.  These submissions by plaintiff established that she suffered a gravity-related injury, and that the falling ladder was an object that required securing for the purpose of the undertaking. 

Notably, the defendants also argued that a question of fact existed as to whether plaintiff bumped the ladder with a wheelbarrow just prior to the accident.  The Court rejected this argument, because during her deposition plaintiff denied bumping the ladder, and defendants’ assertion was based on the testimony of a witness who did not personally observe the subject incident.  Even if the defendant has submitted non-speculative evidence of plaintiff bumping the ladder, that would be insufficient to raise an issue of fact with respect to sole proximate cause as the record established the ladder tipped over in part due to being inadequately secured. 

The Vasquez decision can be found here.

For additional questions, please contact Michael J. Shields, Esq. and/or Philip D. Priore, Esq.

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