When dealing with construction site accidents, who a party is matters. Under Labor Law sections 200, 240(1) and 241(6) owners, contractors, and their agents have a non-delegable duty to provide reasonable and adequate protection to workers from risks inherent at work sites, with a specific emphasis placed on elevation-related hazards. Given the near strict liability nature of Labor Law section 240(1), it is critical to identify whether a party is a proper Labor Law defendant from the get-go.
While identifying the owner (and usually the contractor) may be relatively straightforward, identifying “their agents” has proven to be a more complex undertaking. It should be noted that the requirements set forth in the Labor Law are non-delegable from the standpoint of the owner or contractor, however, the duties themselves can be assigned to “agents” of an owner or “agents” of a contractor. When such an assignment occurs, the same non-delegable duty held by the owner or contractor is imposed on the agents as well. Moreover, “once an entity becomes an agent under the Labor Law it cannot escape liability to an injured plaintiff by delegating the work to another entity.”
An entity that often skirts the line between being an agent and not, is the Construction Manager. Traditionally, the Construction Manager has been found to be outside the purview of the Labor Law when its scope of work is narrowly focused on scheduling and general coordination of the construction process. However, when a Construction Manager’s scope expands, so does its risk that it may, in fact, become a proper Labor Law defendant.