Ladder to Heaven

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Q: I was employed by a management company and needed to paint a wall in the lobby of a building.  Until my accident, I was not aware that my employer and this building were controlled by the same people. 

There were no devices available to do my work, apart from my employer’s ladder – no scaffolds, ropes or other protective devices.  I extended the ladder to twenty-one feet, secured it, placed it directly on the tile floor three feet away from the wall, and leaned the top a foot below the ceiling.  No one was holding or footing this ladder.  After I had been painting the top part of the wall for a couple of minutes, the bottom part of the ladder slipped backwards, and I fell.

A: Against your employer, generally your sole, exclusive remedy is recovery under the Workers’ Compensation Law.  That is, against your employer or any ‘alter ego’ thereof, you may not bring a lawsuit.  Two entities are ‘alter egos’ if (a) one controls the day-to-day operations of the other or (b) the two operate as a single integrated entity.  They are not ‘alter egos’ if (a) the two companies have been kept separate and distinct; (b) neither is a subsidiary of the other; (c) they were formed for different corporate purposes; (d) each maintains its own separate bank account and pays its own expenses; and (d) separate schedules are prepared for tax purposes.

The starting point in a legal analysis is that the underlying owners, for their own business and legal advantage, elected to operate through separate corporate entities.  The structure they created should not lightly be ignored at their behest, in order to shield one of the entities they created from legal liability.

Assuming you can clear the alter-ego hurdle, then one viable claim you appear to have is under section 240(1) of the Labor Law.  The statute imposes a nondelegable duty upon owners and general contractors to provide safety devices to protect workers from elevation-related risks.  Here, the owner apparently failed to provide that protection.

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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