WHO IS A "CONTRACTOR" UNDER NEW YORK SCAFFOLD AND WORKPLACE SAFETY LAWS?

In Rauls v. DirecTV, Inc., the Fourth Department, of the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, ruled that the defendant, a satellite television company, who the hired the plaintiff to install satellite system equipment was a "contractor" within meaning of the New York scaffold law and workplace safety law. The Fourth Department also upheld as proper the trial court's decision refusing to summarily hold the defendant liable where there was an unresolved factual question present in the case.

Procedural history

After installing a satellite dish on the roof of a residence, the plaintiff was injured when he slipped and fell while stepping back from the slippery roof onto a steep ladder. The plaintiff filed a Labor Law action against the defendant.

New York's scaffold law requires an owner, contractor or agent to furnish or erect adequate safety equipment to protect workers from hazards associated with risks when working on structures or buildings. The New York workplace safety law also requires that areas in which construction work is being performed be operated and conducted as to provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety to employees and other persons lawfully present at the worksite. New York courts have interpreted the term "contractor" to include entities that have authority to supervise or control the plaintiff's work.

The trial court denied a partial summary judgment motion filed by plaintiff that argued that the facts of the case were not in dispute and proved that the defendant was liable. The trial court also granted a cross motion for summary judgment filed by the defendant, and dismissed the plaintiff's complaint.

Contractor status of the defendant

The Appellate Division concluded that the defendant was a "contractor" within the meaning of the relevant Labor Law provisions where the evidence showed that the defendant retained the authority to exercise control over the work, to enforce safety standards and to select responsible subcontractors for the installation project. In support of this conclusion, the Appellate Division noted the following provisions of the contract between the defendant and the plaintiff's employer:

  • The defendant had the power to select the party who did the work.
  • The policies and procedures of the defendant had to be observed by the plaintiff's employer in the performance of the work.
  • Training provided by the plaintiff's employer had to meet the defendant's specifications.
  • Materials used by the plaintiff's employer had to be approved by the defendant.
  • A manual prepared by defendant, that gave detailed instructions for the installation of the defendant's satellite equipment, and provided instructions concerning safety issues, was incorporated by reference in the contract, thereby including it as being part of the contract's terms.

Partial summary judgment regarding liability was properly denied

The Appellate Division upheld the trial court's denial of the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment regarding liability, finding that proof was insufficient to show that the plaintiff's injuries were caused by a safety device being absent or in a defective condition, and that there was a disputed factual issue, namely whether the cause of the accident was the plaintiff's decision to step onto the roof contrary to the defendant's specific safety instructions.

Construction workers and others injured at a project worksite in New York due to the possible negligence or other wrongful conduct of another are urged to immediately seek the assistance of a competent attorney experienced in personal injury and Labor Law matters.