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Has the Legislative Intent Behind Labor Law s. 240(1) Been Contravened by Recent Case Law?

The New York Civil Law blog has an excellent discussion regarding the First Department's recent decision in Anderson v. Schwartz.  In Anderson, the Court held that the removal of a temporary sign that had been attached to the exterior of a one-story building by four half-inch bolts did not constitute covered activity pursuant to LL s. 240(1).     Matthew Lerner explains that the Court's decision was based upon the rationale that the removal of the sign did not change the structure in any way and thus constituted a mere cosmetic change.  He then asks:

Is this the type of analysis the Legislature contemplated when it enacted New York's Scaffold Law?  What if the plaintiff was drilling the brick exterior to have the bolts attach this temporary sign to the building?  Would the result be different and wouldn't that constitute an alteration (see the Court of Appeal's definition of alteration in Joblon v. Solow)?  If so, doesn't it seem silly that a worker falls within the ambit of the Labor Law for attaching the sign to the building because it constitutes an "alteration," but would not be covered for removing the sign?  Would the Court of Appeals conclude that even drilling holes into the building is not a significant enough alteration?

I agree with his assertion that recent decisions by the Court of Appeals (Munoz v. DJZ Realty and Joblon v. Solow)  and the First Department's decision in Anderson do not seem to be in keeping with the original legislative intent in that they encompass a very narrow definition of "alteration" of a structure.  As stated by the Court of Appeals in Joblon, this statute is intended to protect:

work[ers] from injury and undoubtedly is to be construed as liberally as may be for the accomplishment of the purpose for which it was thus framed.

That being said, at the very least, this line of cases is logically consistent.  In Joblon, the Court of Appeals concluded that the plaintiff was engaged in work which constituted alteration of the structure in that it brought about a significant change in  the configuration or composition of the structure.  The Court stated, by way of comparison, that "Joblon did more than the routine act of standing on a ladder to hang a clock on a wall." It would seem to me that the activity engaged in by the plaintiff in Anderson was equivalent to hanging a clock on the wall, and thus, pursuant to this line of cases, did not fall within the ambit of LL s. 240(1).

It is unfortunate, however, the the courts have taken such a narrow view as to the actions that constitute an alteration of a structure, as the holdings arguably contravene the original intent of this statute.


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