Although OSHA has specific rules that employers must follow when ladders are being used on a job site, New York has its own requirements for ladder usage, and these are much broader in their scope than OSHA requirements. Sections 240 and 241 of New York’s Labor Law make every owner of a project and all of its subcontractors absolutely liable for all injuries and damages caused by a rule violation; whereas OSHA’s rules only apply against the worker’s employer.
Eligibility to collect Workers’ Compensation is not affected by a claim brought against an owner or contractor for a ladder violation: a worker is able to collect Workers’ Compensation benefits and still bring a lawsuit. There is no requirement that an injured worker choose one or the other as they both apply.
These laws protect not just NY workers but any worker from another state or country. The law applies to all workers who are injured within the geographical borders of NY, even if the worker or employer are residents of another state. This means that if a Pennsylvania lineman falls from a ladder while installing power lines, he/she may collect the Mass. Compensation benefits and still bring a lawsuit against the owner of the project.
The parties responsible include all owners, contractors and their agents. Owners include anyone who has an ownership right (joint or co-tenants, lessee, easements holders, licensees, contract vendees, etc.). Contractors include generals, subs, sole proprietors, independents, or others who have been assigned, or took on the obligation to perform the work even if they assigned the work to another person or firm. The only exceptions to these requirements are owners of 1-2 family residences, and architects and engineers who do not direct or control the work.
These are non-delegable requirements, meaning the owners and contractors cannot avoid responsibility for a ladder accident if they hired another person or contractor to actually perform the work. Before these statutes were enacted, an owner or contractor could have avoided liability simply by delegating the responsibility – by contract or otherwise – to another and thus no longer controlled the work giving rise to the injury. Since, in most cases, it was the plaintiff’s own employer who generally controlled the injury producing activity, the plaintiff was left without any remedy except the Workers’ Compensation benefits. The NY courts have interpreted that Section 240 and 241 were enacted to prevent this avoidance of liability and Courts have held these statutes to impose a non-delegable duty. No longer can the defense of lack of control defeat liability no matter what form the argument takes (i.e., lack of: expertise, knowledge of the work or unsafe condition, financial or geographical inability). The duty imposed by these statutes thus results in vicarious liability upon all owners and their contractors.
Absolute duty: Because these statutes impose a statutory obligation upon defendants, the duty to comply cannot be avoided or diminished by pointing to the workers’ own negligence or culpable conduct, no matter how much at fault the worker is. Comparative negligence is not a defense! For example, if an owner contracted directly with a painter to paint a barn in NY and the painter, who has no employees and does all the work himself, falls from his own ladder which “kicked out” because it was unsecured, the owner of the property will still be responsible for failing to provide an adequate ladder.