The Wicked Stepladder

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Q: A wolf had damaged our chimney.  Could we repair it ourselves?  Should we hire a contractor?  My stepmother did not know.  When I returned from work, she asked me to inspect the chimney, gave me her tape measure and told me what to look for.  Finding a spot among the tree roots, plants, garbage, rocks and gopher holes, she put up a ladder – which we had had for years, although no one had ever used it – and stood nearby.  While climbing to the roof, I fell.

My stepmother had often asked me to plow snow, repair mailboxes and perform other services for friends and neighbors, without expecting payment.  She was not planning to pay me for determining what repairs were needed, although I think she would have given me something, if I had carried out the ultimate repair.

A: Your stepmother directed you on what to do when you inspected the chimney, and would have paid you if you had carried out the repairs.  So, your attorney is empowered to argue that you were an employee within the meaning of the Labor Law and the Industrial Code.

Although the Labor Law generally does not protect a mere investigator and inspector, both of you anticipated that you personally would carry out the repair if your inspection revealed that this would be feasible.  You have a decent argument that the chimney inspection was not a separate phase easily distinguishable from the actual repair, so that this accident was covered.

Focusing on Labor Law § 200, it is a codification of the common-law duty of a landowner to provide workers with a reasonably safe place to work.  Apparently, your stepmother both (a) exercised supervisory control over the manner and methods by which you performed your work and (b) knew of the unsafe manner in which it was being performed.  Thus, your attorney is able to argue that she is liable, in particular, under section 200.

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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