Difference Between I and II Runs Out Clock for Labor Law § 240(1) Claim

There are competing forces in the law in New York, and if you’ve been following along, it would seem that the Labor Law is consistently King of the Hill.  Make no mistake, the Labor Law, specifically Labor Law § 240(1), is a unique force to be reckoned with, but there are sometimes bigger fish out there in the vast sea of statutes and jurisprudence.  “Time waits for no man” and, in the form of the statute of limitations, it does not wait for Labor Law claims either. 

In a recent decision the Appellate Division affirmed a lower Court decision that granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing plaintiff’s Labor Law § 240(1) claim against it.  In Ragusa v. Drazie’s Farm II, LLC, 2024 NY Slip Op 01944 (2d Dep’t 2024), plaintiff alleged that in September 2016, he was employed as a lighting technician and was injured while he was removing decorations and light fixtures from a support column in a tent.  In 2018, plaintiff commenced the action against defendant, alleging it was the owner of the property where the subject incident occurred.  Defendant, Drazie’s Farm II, LLC[1], moved for summary judgment, alleging that he was not the owner of the subject property, and that a separate entity, Drazie’s Farm, LLC, was the actual owner of the subject property. 

In March 2022, plaintiff opposed defendant’s motion for summary judgment and cross-moved for leave to amend the already amended complaint, to add the correct owner, contending that the relation-back doctrine applied.  The Supreme Court, Suffolk County denied plaintiff’s cross-motion for leave to amend the amended complaint and granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment to dismiss plaintiff’s Labor Law § 240(1) claims. 

Briefly, the relation-back doctrine in New York allows a party to be added to an action after the expiration of the statute of limitations.  This is based on a three prong test, and a case “relates back” if (1) the claim arises out of the same conduct, transaction or occurrence, (2) the additional party is united in interest with the original party, and (3) the additional party knew or should have known that but for a mistake by plaintiff as to the identity of the proper parties, the action would have been brought against the additional party as well. 

The Second Department focused on the second prong of its enumerated test, whether “the additional party is united in interest with the original party.”  Here, the evidence submitted shows that the two defendants were separate limited liability companies that owned adjoining properties and, as adjoining property owners, they had different defenses to plaintiff’s cause of action, making the relation-back doctrine inapplicable.  As a result, plaintiff was barred from bringing a cause of action against the correct defendant, because the statute of limitations had expired. 

As to the Labor Law § 240(1) claim, you’ll recall that it applies to “contractors and property owners” and a given defendant may be able to establish, prima facie, that it cannot be held liable under Labor Law § 240(1) because it did not own the property, and thus it could not be considered an owner of the property for purposes of the statute. 

The Ragusa decision can be found here.

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

This article was prepared by McCormick & Priore, P.C. to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers.  This publication is in no way intended to provide legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship.  All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of McCormick & Priore, P.C.

[1] Usually, we try to leave the names of the parties out of our posts, aside from those identified in the case name. However, for this particular post, the subtle distinction between the two parties necessitates their identification.