In the case Joseph v. City of New York, the Appellate Division, First Department reiterated that the application of the force of gravity is still necessary for a plaintiff to prevail on a Labor Law 240(1) case. In this case, the Appellate Division, First Department reversed the decision of the lower court and dismissed the plaintiff's complaint.
In this case, the Plaintiff was struck by a pipe while it was being flushed clean with a highly pressurized mixture of air, water, and a rubber "rabbit" device. The Court determined:
"The movement of this mixture through the pipe failed to bring the mechanism of plaintiff's injury within the ambit of section 240(1) because it did not involve "the direct consequence of the application of the force of gravity to an object" (Gasques v State of New York, 15 NY3d 869, 870 ). The mixture in the pipe did not move through the exercise of the force of gravity, but was rather intentionally propelled through the pipe through the use of high pressure (see Medina v City of New York, 87 AD3d 907, 909 [1st Dept 2011] [subway rail that struck and hit the plaintiff "was propelled by the kinetic energy of the sudden release of tensile stress ... not the result of the effects of gravity"]; see also Smith v New York State Elec. & Gas Corp., 82 NY2d 781 )."
Commonly known as the "Scaffold Law," New York Labor Law 240(1) offers financial protection to construction workers who have suffered elevation-related injuries. The labor law places absolute liability-meaning that liability is imposed regardless of fault–on the property owner and general contractor when a worker suffers an injury due to a fall from elevation or is struck by a falling object. By placing absolute liability on general contractors and property owners, the labor law essentially provides construction workers compensation for damages for most elevation-related injuries.
While New York Labor Law 240(1) places absolute liability on general contractors and property owners, it does not guarantee an injured worker compensation for their damages. While absolute liability, in theory, automatically entitles a worker to compensation, it does not prevent property owners and construction companies from challenging the injured individual's claim. In many cases, property owners and general contractors will do whatever they can to avoid paying additional compensation to an injured worker; including denying that their injury was elevation-related. As a result, construction workers who have suffered elevation-related injuries should seek the counsel of a lawyer with experience handling lawsuits involving falls from heights at construction sites.