Supreme Court Sifts Through Debris on §§ 200 and 241(6) Claims

What happens if plaintiff moves for summary judgment when he can’t identify what actually caused the accident and cannot recall if he tripped or slipped or both?

In MacMenamin v. 95th and Third LLC, 2024 NY Slip Op 31741(U), plaintiff, an elevator constructor, sustained injuries during the course of his employment at a jobsite in Manhattan.  According to plaintiff, he was transporting elevator materials, when he slipped or tripped and fell, resulting in injuries.  While moving elevator materials via a loaded cart, he came across construction debris on the floor, which impeded his ability to push the cart, requiring him to clear a path.  The debris included metal studs, wood, rebar and nails.  As he was clearing the debris, plaintiff tripped on the construction material and slipped on a wet and oily substance, falling backwards, resulting in injuries.

Before engaging it its discussion in the opinion, the Court noted that there is a “dispute on the record” as to whether preceding plaintiff’s fall, he (1) slipped and then tripped, (2) tripped and then slipped, (3) only tripped, or (4) neither.  It also noted that plaintiff observed neither the type of debris on which he allegedly tripped nor the wet and oily substance on which he allegedly slipped.  We note, seemingly, the “dispute” on the record is that no one knows what actually happened. 

At the conclusion of discovery, the parties moved for summary judgment.  Plaintiff moved for summary judgment as to his Labor Law §§ 200 and 241(6) claims, as well as to his common law negligence claim; and Defendants, the general contractor, and the owner, moved to dismiss those same claims. 

Labor Law § 200 & Common-Law Negligence

As to the Labow Law § 200 claim, the Court noted that plaintiff maintained that the dangerous condition that caused the subject incident, both the debris and the oily substance, were a result of a “means and methods” type accident, as well as a “dangerous condition” type accident.

As to the § 200 “means and methods” argument made by the parties, the Court agreed with the defendants’ argument that they did not have the prerequisite control or supervision over plaintiff’s work methods.  Plaintiff admitted he received instructions for his assignment only from his employer, and not from the defendants moving for summary judgment, who were the building owner and general contractor.  Moreover, while the general contractor retained general supervisory authority over the subcontractors at the site, that supervisory authority was insufficient to demonstrate control over plaintiff’s work. 

As to the § 200 “dangerous condition” type accident, the defendants disputed the existence of the unsafe condition, due to plaintiff’s inability to identify the construction debris that caused him to trip, slip, trip and slip, or neither.  The Court noted that a lack of specificity as to the cause of his accident does not eliminate material issues of fact as to whether a dangerous condition existed.  In addition, the Court noted that the defendants failed to eliminate other questions of fact as to constructive notice because there was no evidence as to the last time when the subject area was cleaned or inspected.  As such, the Court denied both plaintiff’s and defendants’ motions.  As the common-law negligence analysis follows a nearly identical track, the Court denied the portions of the parties’ motions with respect to common-law negligence as well.       

Labor Law § 241(6)

Turning to the Labor Law § 241(6) claim, plaintiff relied on Industrial Code §§ 23-1.7(d) and (e)(2).  Plaintiff alleges violations of these code sections caused his injuries, but the Court noted that plaintiff failed to show that such violations were attributable to the moving defendants (the owner and general contractor). 

There was no dispute that an accumulation of construction debris in an open area would violate § 23-1.7(e)(2) or that a slippery or wet and slippery condition would trigger § 23-1.7(d); and the Court noted that plaintiff had met his burden as far as establishing violations of these sections caused his injuries. 

However, the Court reasoned that while violations of these sections constitute “some evidence of negligence”, triable issues of fact exist as to whether someone within the chain of the construction project was negligent and nothing in the record indicates the source of the construction debris.  As the parties failed to eliminate these questions of fact with regard to the § 241(6) claim, the Court denied motions the made by both parties. 

The MacMenamin decision can be found here.

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

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