Dan Santola doesn’t just practice New York construction accident law, he wrote the book other lawyers use in prosecuting construction accident personal injury claims. “Litigating Construction Accident Claims in New York” by Daniel R. Santola combines expert legal analysis, practice instruction and guidance, and sample litigation forms covering New York’s Labor Law Sections 200, 240(1), 241(6) and 241-a.
It teaches readers how to understand and act upon the correct Labor Laws in New York and digs into appellate court conclusions to reveal the true issues and reasoning behind each court’s ruling of the facts. With this book, attorneys, judges, insurance carriers and their staff can successfully prosecute, defend and decide any type of construction accident case with any given set of facts anywhere in New York. He is the attorney other attorneys look to for guidance on New York’s Safe Place to Work laws.
Litigating New York Construction Accident Cases, 2010 ed
By: Daniel R. Santola, Esq.
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New York’s Labor Law statutes have a relatively simple goal: to provide added protection to all workers engaged in the hazardous occupation of performing construction work. They were intended to shift the burden of creating a safe work place from workers, who are least likely to have the capability to enact safety measures, onto owners and their contractors who have the ultimate control over safety practices. Yet, each year, New York’s appellate courts continue to hear over 200 cases involving sections 240(1) and 241(6) of the Labor Law and despite all these decisions, there still exists considerable difficulty in applying the law to any given factual scenario. Instead of the thousands of decisions helping to clarify and explain the meaning of these construction accident statutes, the case law often does the opposite by creating what seems to be a continuous stream of conflicting decisions causing frustration for anyone who searches the prior case law for a quick answer. Can prior Labor Law decisions ever be used effectively to advocate for a given position? Is there any consistency in the application of the Labor Law and if so how do we find it? I have written this book attempting to answer these and other questions and thereby to assist practitioners who must analyze hundreds of decisions – new and old – that may apply to any given situation.
Despite the short comings of engaging in the more traditional method of performing legal research – searching for a prior favorable decision to cite in support of a given position – the case law can still give us some level of predictability. It is admittedly difficult to see consistency in the Labor Law decisions, whether they are based on the legislative command, or some other methodology. But, nonetheless, its there, and it lies in the decisions from the Court of Appeals. By collectively examining the Court of Appeals decisions over the past forty years, taking into account the factual and historical context in which they appear and the unique procedural manner in which they are presented to the Court, there does emerge a remarkable consistency in how the statutes have been, and will be, interpreted by New York’s highest Court. The Court of Appeals, more than any other court in this state, will resolve Labor Law issues based upon the legislative intention which served as the basis for passing these laws.
The fundamental premise of this book is that the practitioner will succeed in litigating Labor Law cases by following the legislative command, supported by the Court of Appeals decisions that provide instructions to the lower courts on how the laws are to be applied. This requires careful analysis and understanding of the Court of Appeals decisions in the context of this legislative command. For example, it is not enough for a plaintiff in a Labor Law case to prove that he fell off a ladder and therefore should be granted summary judgment under Labor Law § 240(1). Or, that the plaintiff was the sole cause of the accident and therefore summary judgment on liability cannot be granted to the plaintiff. There are many other factors that must be taken into account to distinguish when an owner or contractor should be held liable for a worker’s injury. The book will explore how to recognize and present the surrounding facts to establish compliance with the legislative intent. It will serve us well to understand not just how the Court of Appeals has ruled on similar cases in the past, but also how to best present a Labor Law case according to those rulings.
The vast body of appellate division precedent remains problematic with some of the decisions showing a lack of the analytical discipline seen in the Court of Appeals decisions. Many Appellate Division cases have extended – or retracted –the outer limits of the Labor Law by considering factors beyond the intent of the statute. This book will identify not just the bottom line conclusions of the various Appellate Division decisions; it will also examine the court’s reasoning and the many factors that weigh upon the court’s thinking. For example, why do some decisions stress factors which bear upon concepts of fault when dealing with the absolute liability provisions of section 240(1)? Or, why do some courts interpret these statutes strictly when others remind us that the Court of Appeals has consistently ruled that these statutes are remedial in nature and therefore must be construed as liberally as necessary to achieve their intended purpose.
Examining the reasoning behind some of the notable Appellate Division decisions can give us better insight into how to explain why the case should be followed or rejected. Factors such as when a court is attempting to chart out a new course through the Labor Law landscape based on individual notions of what the Labor Law should be in today’s world will be examined. This de facto judicial legislation confuses the practicing bar, and decreases the predictability of Labor Law litigation. Certainly, judges must sometimes read terms into a statute. A case may present a unique set of facts not anticipated under the statute, or the legislature may have left a gap in the statute. In this book, however, I argue that judges should use this power sparingly, and only to the extent necessary. To do otherwise violates the separation of powers between the three branches of government.
Finally, the book will discuss a basic but often overlooked concept in the Labor Law, that negligence and the Labor Law are founded upon two separate and distinct theories of law. This should be obvious to the Labor Law practitioner, but is often ignored, perhaps because judges, juries and attorneys automatically equate recovery in personal injury law with the requirement of showing fault. Additionally, many judges come to the bench without civil experience, much less experience with the Labor Law. These judges, new to the realm of the Labor Law, must understand that a Labor Law case rises and falls on whether the plain wording of the statute has been complied with and not on notions of morality and fault.
It is my hope that this book will serve as a reference guide in applying the Labor Law to real life situations. Possibly, by helping to understand who may be liable and for what, those people who are ultimately in control of safety on a job site will have an added incentive to take the necessary precautions to reduce the serious injuries and deaths which still occur in the work place. The very best way to eliminate tort liability is to eliminate the injuries. If this book contributes to that process in any small way, then my time has been well spent.
Daniel R. Santola, Esq.
Albany, New York
March 31, 2010
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