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What is a Labor Law Injury Case?

Construction workers have special protections under New York law. If you are injured in a construction or similar work environment, you may have a “Labor Law” case, and your case is likely to be especially strong if you fell from a height or something fell on you. The most important “Labor Law” is Labor Law § 240, which protects workers who fall from heights or who are the victims of something falling on them from a height. So whether you fell from a ladder, or a scaffold, or from a roof, or whether something fell on you, you need to know a few things about New York’s Labor Law.

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions, with our answers, about Labor Law claims:

Why is New York Labor Law § 240 (Also Called the “Scaffold Law”) so Important for Construction Workers?

Because basically it says that the owner of the property where you fell or where something fell on you, and the general contractor of the project, and maybe others, too, are in most cases AUTOMATICALLY liable to you for your injuries, even if you yourself are partly, and even mostly, to blame.

Why Does New York Have Such a Law on Its Books?

Well, you have to look back to when all those really tall skyscrapers were going up in New York. Back then, workers were falling like rain from buildings under construction. Serious injury and death were par for the course. Sure, there were rules on the books requiring construction companies to secure their workers with ropes, lanyards, and other devices, to ensure they did not fall, but those rules were almost universally ignored. Why? Because it was cheaper to pay workers’ compensation death benefits to the family of the fallen worker than it was to ensure that all the proper safety rules were followed. The New York State legislature (with a little push from the unions) finally had enough, and said, “you know, we are tired of your excuses. We are tired of all these dead and seriously injured men. From now on, if a worker falls from a height on a construction site, you guys are liable, not just the general contractor, but also the owner of the property. So you guys had better make sure all the safety rules are followed, because if anyone falls, that proves that the rules weren’t followed, and you are all liable". New York has been a safer place for construction workers ever since. And insurance and construction companies haven’t stopped complaining about Labor Law § 240 ever since. They try every year to wipe it off the books, but so far they have failed. And that, in a nut shell, is the story of New York’s Labor Law § 240, the Scaffold Law, the New York construction worker’s best friend.

What if the Accident was Partly My Fault or No One Was Really at Fault?

The worker does not even have to prove that anyone was “at fault” or careless or negligent. The only thing he has to prove, generally, is that he fell from a height because a “safety device” (such as a barricade or harness or ladder or scaffold other means of preventing the fall) was either not provided or failed. Even if the worker himself was largely to blame for his own fall, he still wins if the proper safety devices were not provided or failed.

What if I am Injured on a Construction Site but I did not Fall and Nothing Fell on Me?

Generally, you won’t get the benefit of Labor Law § 240 (the scaffold law) but there are other worker-friendly Labor Law sections that may help you win your case. Labor Law § 241(6), for example, says that if certain New York Industrial Code safety requirements were not followed, and this caused your injury, you have a valid claim against both the owner of the site and the general contractor and perhaps others as well. Also, Labor Law § 200 requires that the owner, general contractor, and anyone with supervisory powers over the work, ensure that the site is safe. If the lack of safety caused your injury, you may have a valid Labor Law § 200 claim.

If I Got Workers’ Compensation Benefits, Can I Still Bring a Claim?

Yes, against anyone except your employer. So, for example, if you were employed by a subcontractor, and you received workers’ compensation, you can’t sue your employer, but you can still sue the site owner as well as the general contractor, and you can sue them even if the accident was entirely the fault of your employer or coworker. That’s because the general contractor and owner are “vicariously” liable for the mistakes or negligence of your employer and others on the site.

Ok, now we have covered the most frequently asked questions about Labor Law cases. But there are a few questions that no one thinks to ask us which we are going to answer for you anyway:

What Kind of Insurance Coverage is There Generally for Labor Law Cases?

Lots. One of the things that makes labor law cases so powerful is that there is lots of insurance, usually millions. The construction site owner and general contractor will have at least a few million dollars in coverage each. This contrasts sharply with car accident cases, for example, where it is not uncommon for there to be only $25,000 in insurance coverage.

Does the Protection of Labor Law § 240 (Scaffold Law) Apply Only to Construction Accident Cases?

No. Although it mostly applies in the construction setting, it also applies when a worker is repairing something on a building or structure, or altering or cleaning a building or structure. So, for example, a telephone pole worker who falls while he is replacing a broken part on the pole is covered under Labor Law § 240, and so is a window washer in most circumstances.

Bottom Line: New York’s Labor Law is a godsend to construction workers and other types of workers. If you were injured in a construction accident or in any job where you fell from a height or something fell on you, you might be eligible to reap the huge benefits of this law. Even if you did not fall and nothing fell on you, you might benefit from it. Don’t hesitate to call Michaels & Smolak at 315 253 3293 to discuss a possible claim. If we accept your claim, we will invite you in for a chat. Here’s what to expect:

How the Claims Process Works
  • (1) Getting to know you. Our first meeting will probably take up to an hour. We will thoroughly question you, and examine whatever records you have, to gather all available evidence and leads to evidence. We will also get to know each other and decide whether we want to work together on your case. If we agree to work together, we will both sign our retainer agreement.
  • (2) Gathering records. Your medical records are extremely important and will play a big role in proving the “value” of your case. Since we need to be sure we get ALL the records, we will have you sign authorizations allowing us to write directly to each of your medical providers, who will then send us all your records. From time to time, we will write them to get updates. We will similarly gather any records of your past income should you be claiming lost income. Relax: gathering records is all on us. All you have to do is sign the authorizations.
  • (3) Getting our ducks lined up. We will also write to all the relevant insurance carriers, defendants, etc. We may also take statements from witnesses. This will ensure we have everything in place for when we eventually make a settlement demand.
  • (4) Waiting. Yes, that’s right. The next step is usually just waiting. Waiting for what? For you to heal. We can’t make a settlement demand until we know the extent of your injury, and whether you will have a permanent loss, and if so, how severe that loss will be. If we settle before we know the permanent consequences, then we will sell you short. The insurance company will not pay for permanent injuries as long as you are still treating and there is a chance you will completely heal. The wait may be for months or even a year or longer, depending on the injury.
  • (5) Settlement. Once you are done treating, all the lawyers (yes all of us!) will study your file, your medical records, etc., and together we will decide – based on our experience in the courtroom -- what a fair settlement should be. We will then call you back to our office to meet with you and discuss our recommendation. You can accept or reject our recommendation. If you accept it, we will then try to settle the case for MORE or at least as much as we have agreed would be fair. But if the insurance company offers less than the number we agreed on, and negotiations fail to bring them up to our number, we will help you decide whether we should “take them to court” or simply take the last best offer. The decision is always yours, but we provide you will all the information you need to make an informed decision.
The End Result

We have helped hundreds of people just like you get their lives back in order after suffering serious injuries from a construction accident or other work accident.

For example, Tony, a roofer, was part of a roofing team on a set of new homes being developed. His employer did not provide him with a harness and lanyard. He fell and suffered terrible injuries to his feet and ankles. After suing the owner of the site and the general contractor, we were able to get him a seven figure settlement.

Another example: Bill was a telephone line repairman. He was fixing a broken part on a telephone pole while standing in an aerial bucket. The bucket “bucked” while he was working, and tossed him out. He landed on the ground below and suffered serious injuries. After suing this owners of the property, we were able to get him a significant six figure settlement.

Here’s another example of someone we helped: Jeremy, a construction worker, was working from a ladder trying to loosen a bolt with a wrench. The ladder his employer had provided to him was inadequate for the job (too short and not stable). As he pulled at the bolt, the ladder wobbled and then toppled, bringing Jeremy down with it. Because of his injuries, he was unable to return to construction work. We brought a claim against the general contractor. After he was done treating for his injuries, and their permanent nature was established, we were able to obtain for him a settlement large enough to replace his lost income and compensate him for his pain and suffering.

Please note that past case results are no guarantee of future successes. Each case is different. We have described just a few of the hundreds of cases we have brought to successful conclusion just to give you an idea of the many kinds of cases we handle.

Our team is standing by to help you, too. As a matter of fact, we look forward to your call and the chance to serve you as we have served others in our community. While we certainly can’t guarantee any results, we may be the right law firm for you. The best way for us to find out is by calling us at 315-253-3293 to arrange a free consultation.

Yours,
The Michaels & Smolak Team

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