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Court Finds 'Questions of Fact' in Electric Shock Case

An employee of New York-based Knight Electrical Services Corp., Justin Nazario, was injured in October 2009 while removing old light fixtures.

The New York Court of Appeals this November disagreed that a worker who sustained a shock on a ladder was entitled to summary judgment.

An employee of New York-based Knight Electrical Services Corp., Justin Nazario, was injured in October 2009 while removing old light fixtures at a property owned by 222 Broadway L.L.C. He was standing on the third or fourth rung of a 6-foot-tall wooden ladder when he received an electric shock from an exposed wire, according to court records. He was still holding the ladder, which remained in an open and locked position because it was “not secured to something stable,” when he fell to the floor.

He filed a claim under New York's Labor Law 240 and 241, or the Scaffold Law, against 222 Broadway, which then filed a contractual indemnification claim against Knight Electrical Services Corp., according to a report from Business Insurance.

Nazario's motion for partial summary judgment on his labor law claim was originally denied, while 222 Broadway's motion for summary judgment on its contractual indemnification claim was granted by New York state Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey D. Wright in April 2014.

Then in January 2015, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division's 1st Judicial Department ruled that Justice Wright erred in dismissing Nazario's labor law claim.

“It is not a requirement that a worker injured by a fall from an elevated height demonstrate that the safety device was defective or failed to comply with safety regulations,” the appellate court's ruling states. “The worker's burden is to show that the absence of adequate safety devices, or the inadequacy of the safety devices provided to protect the worker from a fall, was a proximate cause of his or her injuries.”

Fast forward to Nov. 21, 2016. The Court of Appeals disagreed and found that plaintiff was not entitled to summary judgment on his Labor Law §240 claim, remitting the case back to the Appellate Division and stating that questions of fact existed as to whether the ladder plaintiff was using failed to provide proper protection, and whether plaintiff should have been provided with additional safety devices.

According to a release from Traub Lieberman Straus & Shrewsberry LLP, this appears to be a departure from prior case law such as Vukovich v 1345 Fee, LLC, 61 A.D.3d 533 (1st Dept 2009) (summary judgment granted on Labor Law § 240  where plaintiff fell from an unsecured ladder after receiving electric shock while working as a pipe fitter), and suggests that the First Department will now require plaintiffs to show that the safety device provided was either defective or that the plaintiff required additional safety devices to conduct the work they were performing at the time of the incident.

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