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Plaintiff’s Actions May Be “Sole Proximate Cause” of Injury under Labor Law

In a rare “victory” for defendants, defending a Labor Law case, Justice Howard Lane (Supreme Court, Queens County) denied plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment sounding in violation of Labor Law sections 240(1) and 241(6) on the grounds that questions of fact existed as to whether plaintiff’s actions were the “sole proximate cause” of his accident. The “sole proximate cause” defense is often raised but is rarely successful. However, in this case, the plaintiff fell while climbing a “ship’s ladder” located on the roof of a school building so that he could install a missing bolt on the ladder. Plaintiff claims that when he grabbed the top rung of the ladder, the rung became loose and he fell.
Although the Court found that plaintiff met his burden to be awarded summary judgment, the defendants raised questions of fact concerning plaintiff’s own conduct such that the motion had to be denied. Among the factors cited by the Court were that the plaintiff was in charge of making repairs to the very ladder from which he fell; that he was aware that the ship’s ladders on the roof were missing bolts and had hardware that required tightening; and that a missing nut had to be replaced on the subject ladder. Moreover, despite knowing that the ladder in question was in need of repairs he “illogically made the decision” to climb up the ladder to try and repair it. Significantly, the defendants were also able to establish that there were other ladders and lifts that were available (and that plaintiff had previously used) but he chose not to use them.
In light of these factors, the Court denied plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and found that plaintiff’s conduct raised questions of fact. These are unusual facts and we rarely have that much ammunition to use against a Labor Law plaintiff but it still is rare that a Court denies a plaintiff summary judgment under these circumstances. A good read for anyone handling these kinds of cases.
Jason T. Katz,Esq.

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