Sugarman News & Articles

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By: Stephen A. Davoli, Esq.

 

Unlike most states, design professionals practicing in New York need to be cognizant of potential liability that can arise under the Labor Law when a worker is injured. Commonly referred to as the “scaffold law,” Labor Law § 240(1) makes contractors, owners, and their agents strictly liable for injuries sustained as a result of gravity related risks. Although the Courts have expanded its meaning over the years, this primarily relates to instances where a worker falls from a height, or some material, equipment, or other object falls from a height and injures a worker.

 

Claims made under Labor Law § 240(1) carry a great degree of risk because statutory strict liability applies. This means you can be liable to the plaintiff regardless of whether you were actively negligent or at fault. In addition, the plaintiff’s comparative fault is not taken into account. Even if the plaintiff were 99% at fault, he or she would prevail on their claim with no reduction taken for their degree of fault. Because of the dangerous nature of construction work, many of these cases result in catastrophic injuries, and thus substantial damages.

 

Design professionals are afforded statutory protection from liability under the Labor Law by the provisions of both Labor Law § 240(1) itself, and other sections of the Labor Law under Section 241(9). They provide that design professionals are not liable for worksite injuries provided the design professional does not direct or control the work or work activities other than planning and design. Notably, the statute does not specifically reference other work such as contract administration, although Courts have held that the same standard applies there as well.

 

In order to avoid exposing your firm to potential liability under the Labor Law, your contract with the owner should make clear that that the design professional has no control over safety or the means and methods of construction. Standard AIA and EJCDC contracts have incorporated language that protects design professionals in this area. If a contract with the owner makes the design professional responsible for safety or the means and methods of work, you may be liable under the Labor Law if someone is injured.

 

Even if your contract has language that protects the design professional, if you exceed your authority on a worksite and engage yourself in safety matters, or in the means and methods of construction, a Court may determine that your conduct rises to the level of being an agent of the owner. In such a circumstance, you can be liable for injuries to workers whether or not any of your conduct was negligent or caused the accident in any way.

 

If you have any questions about how to protect yourself and your firm from liability for injuries to workers on a project, it is always best to seek the advice of counsel or to have an attorney review your contract to ensure it protects you from these risks. The attorneys at Sugarman Law Firm routinely review contacts for design professionals to ensure these, and other risks, are minimized at the outset of a project.

 

Unlike most states, design professionals practicing in New York need to be cognizant of potential liability that can arise under the Labor Law when a worker is injured. Commonly referred to as the “scaffold law,” Labor Law § 240(1) makes contractors, owners, and their agents strictly liable for injuries sustained as a result of gravity related risks. Although the Courts have expanded its meaning over the years, this primarily relates to instances where a worker falls from a height, or some material, equipment, or other object falls from a height and injures a worker.

 

Claims made under Labor Law § 240(1) carry a great degree of risk because statutory strict liability applies. This means you can be liable to the plaintiff regardless of whether you were actively negligent or at fault. In addition, the plaintiff’s comparative fault is not taken into account. Even if the plaintiff were 99% at fault, he or she would prevail on their claim with no reduction taken for their degree of fault. Because of the dangerous nature of construction work, many of these cases result in catastrophic injuries, and thus substantial damages.

 

Design professionals are afforded statutory protection from liability under the Labor Law by the provisions of both Labor Law § 240(1) itself, and other sections of the Labor Law under Section 241(9). They provide that design professionals are not liable for worksite injuries provided the design professional does not direct or control the work or work activities other than planning and design. Notably, the statute does not specifically reference other work such as contract administration, although Courts have held that the same standard applies there as well.


In order to avoid exposing your firm to potential liability under the Labor Law, your contract with the owner should make clear that that the design professional has no control over safety or the means and methods of construction. Standard AIA and EJCDC contracts have incorporated language that protects design professionals in this area. If a contract with the owner makes the design professional responsible for safety or the means and methods of work, you may be liable under the Labor Law if someone is injured.

 

Even if your contract has language that protects the design professional, if you exceed your authority on a worksite and engage yourself in safety matters, or in the means and methods of construction, a Court may determine that your conduct rises to the level of being an agent of the owner. In such a circumstance, you can be liable for injuries to workers whether or not any of your conduct was negligent or caused the accident in any way.

 

If you have any questions about how to protect yourself and your firm from liability for injuries to workers on a project, it is always best to seek the advice of counsel or to have an attorney review your contract to ensure it protects you from these risks. The attorneys at Sugarman Law Firm routinely review contacts for design professionals to ensure these, and other risks, are minimized at the outset of a project.

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