Labor Law 9 : A Home

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Q: We hired an independent contractor to do a week’s drywall work in our single-family house, and a worker was injured when he fell off a scaffold.  The worker had never spoken to us other than to exchange greetings and, on one occasion, to discuss a problem with the framing of the ceiling.  At the time of the occurrence, we were not even present in the room. For that matter, the scaffold had been moved between the time we left the premises and the time of our return.

On the other hand, I have to admit that, on one isolated occasion, we had moved and re-assembled the scaffold.

A: Sections 240(1) and 241(6) of the Labor Law contain identical language exempting from their application owners of one and two-family dwellings who do not direct or control the work.  This exemption is intended to protect residential homeowners from their failure to insure against strict liability.

The independent contractor was in charge of supervision.  You never instructed the worker on how to perform his work or how to use the scaffold.  Even the moving and re-assembling do not rise to the level of direction and control – absent evidence that you were also affirmatively directing the worker in the manner of the work or the use of the scaffold.  Your involvement with the drywall project was no more extensive than that of an ordinary homeowner who does not supervise, direct or control the manner of the work.  Consequently, you are immune based upon the homeowners’ exemption from liability under sections 240(1) and 241(6).             

As for section 200 of the Labor Law, it merely codifies the common-law duty of an owner or general contractor to provide workers with a safe place to work.  That section contains no homeowners’ exemption.  This makes sense: homeowners may indeed be held liable in ordinary negligence.  So be sure to tell your attorney every detail of what happened when you moved and re-assembled that scaffold.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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