New York High Court Allows Work Injury Claim to Proceed

New York High Court Allows Work Injury Claim to Proceed

  • February 22, 2014
  • Antin, Ehrlich & Epstein, LLP
  • No comments

Workplace injuries are an everyday hazard in any employment site, but are especially common and dangerous among the blue collar work force.  Workers can be injured by motor vehicles, hazardous or negligent conditions at construction sites, poorly maintained facilities, or any number of other direct causes.Construction workers face hazards from collapsing trenches, scaffolding defects, faulty flooring and other perils. Workers in a variety of settings must also constantly worry about forklift accidents, crane accidents and other dangers involving machinery.

Securing appropriate compensation for lost wages, medical expenses and other long-term effects of a work injury often requires the injured worker or surviving family members to explore their full range of legal options. But, it is unreasonable to expect any worker to research and understand the plethora of laws, regulations, and remedies available to an injured worker in New York.  A New York construction accident lawyer can explain how workers’ compensation, New York labor laws and personal injury claims are designed to provide plaintiffs with a forum to assert their legal rights against negligent employers or contractors.

As a recent case before the New York Court of Appeals shows, construction workers are not the only employees who can suffer harm at construction sites. In Vega v. Restani Construction, a city park maintenance worker sued for the injuries she suffered due to improper disposal of construction debris.

Overcoming Pretrial Challenges to Work Injury Claims

The circumstances that led to the appeal began in 2002, after defendant Restani Construction Company contracted with the city to do renovation work at several city parks in the Bronx. Another defendant in the case, General Fence Corporation (GFC), was engaged as a subcontractor.

The park’s employee who filed the construction site lawsuit alleged that she suffered a shoulder injury when she tried to move a trash can in Loreto Park. When her co-worker looked into the barrel, she saw chunks of concrete that had apparently been wrongly left behind by construction workers.  Such construction debris is required to be disposed of in a special manner, not through regular household and municipal waste disposal systems.

After the worker filed a personal injury claim against multiple defendants, GFC filed a motion for summary judgment. GFC contended that, even if its workers had placed concrete debris in the garbage container, the act did not amount to negligence that would support a claim for damages.

The trial court disagreed, and GFC appealed the pretrial motion. After the New York Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed the trial court’s decision in 2010, GFC took its appeal to the next level.

The Court of Appeals of New York agreed to hear the appeal, and took a close look at the nature of the summary judgment process. Such motions must be viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party (the party that did NOT appeal) and must not resolve any material issues of fact.  Factual issues can only be decided by a judge or jury after full presentation of the evidence.

The state’s high court affirmed the lower court decisions, rejecting GFC’s argument that the heavy trash can was not an “ordinary and obvious” hazard. New York work injury law recognizes the principle that workers cannot hold others responsible for injuries caused by acting incautiously with respect to an ordinary and obvious hazard. The court noted that the circumstances did not allow for a pretrial conclusion that the hazard was obvious, given the possibility that the concrete debris was covered by other garbage.

Protecting an Injured Client’s Rights From the Outset

Personal injury attorneys understand the importance of fighting for a client’s right to a trial on the merits of a work injury claim for serious and permanent injuries. While settlement often plays an important role in such cases, the only way to hold the attention of defendants’ counsel is by presenting a strong case for compensation at every opportunity.

Demolition accidents, electrical shocks, work vehicle collisions and even falls on ice or snow at a work site are usually the result of a complex sequence of events. By assessing the acts that led up to an injury in light of New York statutes and the cases that interpret legal standards, a construction accident lawyer can help clients understand their prospects for receiving meaningful compensation that matches their present and future needs.

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