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Labor Pains
by Ron Davis

A broad interpretation of a labor law will require that the owner of a New York shopping center pay a construction worker for injuries he suffered at the center site.

The shopping center, located in New York County, had contracted with the injured worker’s employer to build an additional store there. The worker was a project superintendent at the time and was engaged in a “walk-through” just prior to his injury. Such an assignment is performed for the purpose of compiling a “punch list” of unfinished items and last-minute changes as a construction project nears completion.

While compiling the punch list, the worker spoke with the manager of the shopping center about another matter. The manager was concerned that the show windows of the nearly completed store revealed an empty interior. The manager therefore asked the worker to cover the windows with opaque sisal paper to prevent shopping center patrons from viewing inside the store.

The worker agreed to perform the task. He then borrowed a ladder from the shopping center storeroom and began covering the windows. But while the worker was on the ladder, it unexpectedly collapsed, causing him to fall and injure himself.

He subsequently sued the shopping center’s owner, seeking payment under the so-called “scaffolding” law. The purpose of that law is to protect workers who are injured while performing duties during construction projects. And the specific job of compiling a punch list falls under the “erection” category of the scaffolding law.

The owner of the shopping center pointed out, however, that the worker was not engaged in compiling a punch list at the time of his injury.

A New York State appellate court ruled, however, that the scaffolding law must be interpreted liberally for the protection of workers. The judges explained, “Compiling a punch list is work that falls under the scaffolding law, and the worker in this case is therefore protected thereby even if he was not directly involved in compiling a punch list when injured.” (Greenfield v. Macherich Queens Limited Partnership, 771 N.Y.S.2d 498)

Decision: February 2004
Published: April 2004



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