Statute Protecting Workers Injured While Cleaning a “Structure” Does Not Protect Employee Cleaning a Manufactured Product

An employee at a manufacturing company was cleaning a seven-foot high wall module, manufactured by his employer, in preparation for shipping the module to the purchaser. The employee fell to the ground and was injured when the ladder he was standing on broke. He sued the purchaser of the wall module and his employer’s landlord for damages under a New York statute that requires contractors and owners to provide protective scaffolding or other devices for the protection of workers engaged in, among other things, cleaning a building or a structure.


The plaintiff argued that the wall module was a “structure,” the ladder given him failed to provide proper protection, and that the purchaser was both a contractor and an owner of the wall module while the landlord was the owner of the factory where the accident happened. Therefore, the plaintiff argued, he was entitled to relief under the statute.


The trial court granted summary judgment dismissing the claim. The court of appeals affirmed on the ground that the plaintiff was not engaged in an activity the statute protects. Therefore, the New York scaffold law did not apply to the injuries sustained by this worker. The statutory intent was to protect workers in the construction industry. Although not strictly limited to cleaning performed on construction sites, it usually only applies to the cleaning of windows on buildings and cannot be extended to cover the cleaning of a manufactured product. To adopt the plaintiff’s argument would extend coverage of the statute to virtually any employee cleaning anything.


The court did not reach the question of whether the purchaser and landlord were “contractors” or “owners” under the statute.


See: Dahar v. Holland Ladder & Mfg. Co., 18 N.Y.3d 521, 964 N.E.2d 402 (N.Y.  Feb 21, 2012).