New York Labor Law §240 was created to protect workers from accidents involving falls from elevated work places such as ladders. When a worker is involved in demolition, construction, or alteration of a structure, New York Labor Law §240(1) imposes a nondelegable duty upon owners and contractors to provide safety devices necessary for workers subjected to elevation-related risks.
By the mere act of standing on a ladder, one would imagine that they are thus subjected to an elevation-related risk – you’re on the ladder so you are subjected to an elevated-risk, appears simple. However, unfortunately it’s not that simple. The mere fact that one is on a ladder does not automatically invoke the applicability of Labor Law §240(1).
New York Labor Law §2401(1) provides that “All contractors and owners and their agents, except owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work, in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure shall furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection to a person so employed.”
The key to invoking applicability of §240(1) and thus obtaining the strict liability offered by the statute is that the work must be performed in “the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning, or pointing of a building or structure”. This quoted language can be an obstacle to obtaining coverage under §2401(1) – if the hanging of the sign does not involve the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, etc, then hanging the sign is not covered under §240(1).
Appellate Decisions regarding sign hanging and Labor Law §240(1), can appear inconsistent. Work that one court finds to be alteration, another court may not. However, one constant revolves around the amount of work it takes to hang the sign – the more effort required, the more likely the work is considered alteration and thus §240(1) will apply and the owners and contractor are strictly liable for the workers injuries.
For example, the First Department in Futterman v. Rela Realty Corp., 283 A.D.2d 261 (1st Dep’t 2001), found that hanging an interior sign from an existing platform was not directed at effecting the sort of significant physical change to the building as would have brought the work within the protective ambit of Labor Law §240(1). Also, the Fourth Department, in Jones v. Bartlett, 275 A.D.2d 956 (4th Dep’t 2000), found that standing on a ladder and hanging a banner from a sign frame was not engaging in work protected by Labor Law §240(1).
Seemingly indistinguishable fact patterns from the above cases have rendered different results. For example, the Second Department in Vasquez v. Skyline Const. & Restoration Corp., 8 A.D.3d 473 (2d Dep’t 2004), found that standing on a ladder to install a sign on the building is the type of work contemplated by §240(1). Similarly so, the Third Department in Lawyer v. Rotterdam Ventures, 204 A.D.2d 878 (3d 1994) found that there was little question that standing on a ladder to install a sign is the type of work contemplated by Labor Law §240(1).
The one constant referenced above is that where more work is required to hang the sign it is more likely the activities are covered by §240(1). For example, the Second Department in LaGiudice v. Sleepy’s Inc., 67 A.D.3d 969 (2d Dep’t 2009) found that drilling through cinder blocks and feeding electrical wires through the hole to connect to the sign was significant enough to be considered alteration and thus §240(1) was applicable.
In sum, merely standing on a ladder to hang a sign may not afford an injured worker the protections of §240(1), however, the more work that must be done to hang the sign – the more likely the work will be covered by Labor law §240(1).