On September 12, 2012, the Appellate Division, Second Department ruled that a wedding chupah (a canopy under which brides and grooms stand during weddings conducted in the Jewish religious tradition) is a structure for the purposes of Labor Law 240(1) liability. In that case, the plaintiff was standing on a ladder and dismantling the chupah when the ladder slipped and plaintiff fell sustaining injuries. The court held that the plaintiff was entitled to the extraordinary protections of the Labor Law.
Labor Law 240(1) is a strict liability statutes that imposes upon owners and general contractors a nondelagable duty to provide safety devices necessary to protect workers from risks inherent in elevated work sites. Absolute liability is imposed upon owners and contractors who violate the statute by failing to provide or erect necessary safety devices for the protection of workers exposed to elevation-related hazards where such failure is a proximate cause of the accident.
Courts have liberally interpreted that statute and the word “structure” to achieve the laudable goal of the statute; namely to protect workers. Courts have held that a utility pole with attached hardware and cables, a ticket booth at a convention center, a free standing gasoline sign, a crane used for construction, a utility van and a power screen being assembled at a gravel pit all qualify under the expansive definition of structure within Labor Law 240(1).
This recent decision holding that a chupah is a “structure” under the Labor Law which entitled the plaintiff to the extraordinary protections of the Labor Law confirms that New York State will protect its laborers from elevation-related hazards and courts will liberally construe the statute to ensure that workers who place their lives and well-being on the line when engaged in their duties will be protected to the fullest extent of the law. New York law is committed to protect laborers and places responsibility for ensuring safety at the workplace on those who are most able to ensure it; owners and contractors.