Suffolk County Court of New York Grants Summary Judgment to Homeowners in Suit Brought by Injured Roofer for Labor Law Violations

In Smith v. Dressler, the Supreme Court for the State of New York in Suffolk County addressed a personal injury case where an injured plaintiff brought suit against homeowners after he was injured when he fell from a ladder while performing roofing and siding work. In his Complaint, he alleged common law negligence and violations of Labor Law §§ 200, 240 and 241. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the single-family homeowner’s exemption applies as to the Labor Law claims because defendants did not supervise, direct or control plaintiff’s work and did not provide him with any materials, tools or equipment. Defendants also argued that the negligence claim must be dismissed because defendants did not create or have actual notice of any condition on their property that caused the accident. After analyzing the evidence submitted by defendants, which included deposition testimony, the court agreed with the defendants and held that they had established a prima facie case of entitlement to summary judgment, while plaintiff failed to raise issues of triable fact. Plaintiff’s Complaint was dismissed.

Plaintiff was employed as a mechanic performing residential roofing for a construction company. While he was on a ladder at defendants’ home, the ladder tipped and he fell to the ground. Plaintiff claimed that a defect in the ground caused the ladder to tip. The evidence showed that plaintiff’s supervisor directed his work and that the ladder he used was provided by his employer. Defendants testified that they did not instruct or direct any of the employees of the construction company and that a supervisor was always there “taking care of everything.” They further testified that they ran a business from the residence, and that they had two or three employees that worked out of one room in their 11-room house.

Labor Law §§ 240 and 241 impose certain non-delegable safety duties on contractors, owners and their agents, but specifically exempts owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not control the work. Where a family property serves both residential and commercial purposes, the court must make a determination as to whether the exemption applies. Based on the evidence presented, the court held that the homeowner’s exemption applied because defendants were able to demonstrate that the premises was a one-family residence and that they did not direct or control plaintiff’s work. The court found that the work being performed by plaintiff related directly to the residential use of the home and that the use of one room of the home as an office did not change the residential nature of the home.

With respect to the Labor Law § 200 and negligence claims, the court looked at whether the defendants created the dangerous condition or had actual or constructive notice of the alleged defect. As defendants had testified that they were unaware of any defect in the ground and plaintiff testified that was also unaware, the court held that no actual notice existed and that constructive notice could not be imputed to defendants. Summary Judgment was granted in favor of defendants.

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