In the case, Ocana v. Quasar Realty Partners, L.P., the Appellate Division, First Department ruled on two issues which often appear in New York Labor Law cases. Both of these issues were decided in favor of the plaintiff and the lower Court's granting of summary judgment pursuant to Labor Law 240(1)was affirmed.
The first issue is related to New York Workers Compensation Law. Often, the various ownership and construction entities at a New York construction site are unclear and often intertwined for insurance and other reasons. This can give rise to confusion as to which company was the plaintiff's employer. This directly impacts the injured person's ability to collect Workers Compensation Benefits and it can affect a lawsuit and potential recovery pursuant to the Labor Laws of the State of New York.
In the Ocana case, the Defendant argued that it was the alter ego of plaintiff's employer, and that the Workers' Compensation Law therefore barred the action against it. The First Department held that, although plaintiff's employer was the general partner of defendant, they functioned as separate entities.
"Plaintiff's employer provided janitorial services for the buildings at issue, which were owned by defendant. The two entities kept separate files and did not commingle funds (see Amill v Lawrence Ruben Co., Inc., 100 AD3d 458, 459 [1st Dept 2012]; Soodin v Fragakis, 91 AD3d 535, 536 [1st Dept 2012]). Further, the Property Management Plan between the entities stated that defendant did not have any employees, and required plaintiff's employer to indemnify defendant for any and all liability." Thus, the plaintiff was properly able to bring suit against the defendant.
The second issue that is of relevance to Labor Law 240(1) litigation dealt with the manner in which the accident occurred. There are few details in the Decision of the First Department. Apparently, the accident was unwitnessed and the whole basis for the liability finding was the testimony of the plaintiff himself. The plaintiff, while standing on a ladder and, presumably was engaged in a protected Labor Law 240(1) activity, felt the ladder wobble. While descending the ladder to determine the source of wobble, the ladder and plaintiff both fell resulting in an injury to the plaintiff.
The First Department held, "Plaintiff was not required to offer proof that the ladder was defective." The Court continued, "In opposition, defendant failed to show that plaintiff's conduct was the sole proximate cause of the accident and that it had provided plaintiff with adequate safety devices to prevent his fall (Citations Omitted)."
Clearly, the plaintiff was able to overcome some major, and potentially fatal, hurdles to establish an entitlement to Summary Judgment pursuant to Labor Law 240(1).
While grounds for compensation under New York Labor Laws 240(1) and 241(6) may seem obvious to injured workers, construction companies and contractors often disagree and are willing to fight claims in court. Property owners and construction companies can have vast resources that they are willing to exhaust in order to avoid paying injured workers the compensation they may deserve. As a result, it is important that construction workers who have suffered an on-site injury retain an attorney with experience handling law suits relating to Labor Laws 240(1) and 241(6).