Construction Accident – Slip And Fall (1998)
The time limitation for a lawsuit is ordinarily three years from the date of the accident. However, when a municipality or governmental authority is involved, special rules apply and the time to sue is shorter. Often, a document called a Notice of Claim must be filed within 90 days of the accident and the lawsuit must be started within one year and ninety days of the accident if a municipality or governmental authority is involved.
Our client was employed as a plumber. His employer was a subcontractor on a job for the New York City Transit Authority. While our client was working in a bus depot, Transit Authority workers pressure testing a nearby pump sprayed him and his work area with oil. As our client stood up to walk away so he could clean himself off, he slipped on the oil and fell, injuring his right knee.
When he came to us, the time limitation to file a claim against the Transit Authority had expired, so we instead brought a case against the general contractor, arguing that there were violations of the Labor Law and the Industrial Code for which the general contractor was legally responsible. The general contractor moved to dismiss the case, contending that it did not have “notice” of the condition in time to correct it before our client was injured.
The trial judge dismissed the case, and the Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed the dismissal on the strength of its recent decision in another case. We asked the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, for permission to appeal, which was granted.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with our argument that the Labor Law is intended to provide construction workers with greater protection than simple negligence laws, and that if our client was required to prove that the defendant had “notice” of the condition, then the protection of the Labor Law would essentially be eliminated. The Court reinstated our case under the Labor Law, and also reinstated our negligence case against the defendant, accepting our argument that the general contractor had the authority to control the work site and should have prevented the Transit Authority workers from pressure testing a pump in the area where our client was working.
The case later went to trial, resulting in a verdict in our clients’ favor. The Court of Appeals decision remains one of the most important decisions in the history of the Labor Law.