Fall From Ladder Prompts Labor Law “Homeowners’ Exception” Analysis
The most well-known exception to the Labor Law is the “homeowners’ exception,” and is found in the opening sentence of Labor Law § 240(1):
“All contractors and owners and their agents, except owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work, . . .”
See N.Y. Lab. Law § 2410(1) (emphasis added).
There is a whole body of case law that examines the exception to the exception and what constitutes “directing or controlling the work”. (For the sake of brevity, we will not be heading boldly into that abyss and instead center our journey on the homeowners’ exception.) Based on the language found in the statute regarding the homeowners’ exception, it would seem to be straightforward that if you own the property, you are not a proper Labor Law defendant. However, a recent decision from Supreme Court, Kings County gives a rare look into an analysis regarding the homeowners’ exception, which is not as automatic as its language would imply.
In De Lopez v. 224 Decatur St., LLC, 2024 NY Slip Op 30195(U) (Sup. Ct. Kings Cty. 2024), plaintiff alleged that while she performed cleaning work at the subject jobsite, she was forced to utilize an A-frame ladder, which she found at the jobsite and was not specifically provided by the defendants for Plaintiff’s work, but had been owned by one of the defendants. Plaintiff retrieved the ladder, opened it on the bedroom floor and made sure the latches were locked in place. She climbed up the ladder to the fifth step and began to work. She then leaned to her right, at which point, she felt unstable, and testified that she then “came down” with the ladder as it started to fall.
The Court ultimately found that plaintiff made a prima face showing of entitlement to summary judgment on her § 240(1) claim due to the fact that the ladder was inadequate, and plaintiff was performing work within the purview of the statute.
However, the Court’s opinion opens with an examination of the claims by one defendant regarding ownership of the subject premises. In reviewing the defendant’s argument, the Court outlined that the limited liability company that owned the subject premises was wholly owned by a single individual. The property, a four-family home when purchased, was intended to be remodeled by the defendant into a two-family home.
The Court rejected the homeowner’s argument of entitlement to the homeowner’s exception to the Labor Law since it failed to eliminate all triable issues of fact in this regard. In its reasoning, the Court noted that defendant did not submit any evidence that he had already, or actually intended to, convert the residence, and there was no evidence that he, as the individual owner of the LLC, actually resided at the premises. The Court highlighted that in support of this claim, the defendant homeowner only submitted the deposition transcripts of each of the parties, which were insufficient, in this case, to make a prima facie showing of entitlement to the homeowner’s exception to the Labor Law.
As of the date of this writing, the parties have not yet appealed the decision, though we add that the time to file the Notice of Appeal has yet to expire.
The De Lopez decision can be found here.
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