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Rocovich v. Consol Edison Co.

Court of Appeals of the State of New York
Nov 25, 1991
78 N.Y.2d 509 (N.Y. 1991)

Summary

holding that "[i]t is an accepted rule that all parts of a statute are intended to be given effect and that a statutory construction which renders one part meaningless should be avoided"

Summary of this case from Lower E. Side Organized Neighbors v. N.Y.C. Planning Comm'n

Opinion

Argued October 10, 1991

Decided November 25, 1991

Appeal from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Second Judicial Department, Joan M. Durante, J.

Charles A. Giulini, Jr., and Michael Joseph J. Barnas for appellant.

John J. Reilly and Patricia A. Corry for respondent. Richard L. O'Hara, Edward J. Groarke and Scott P. Shelkin for New York State AFL-CIO, amicus curiae.


The question in this personal injury action is whether Labor Law § 240 (1) applies to the particular activity in which plaintiff was injured. Plaintiff was employed by third-party defendant King Insulation Company which had contracted to remove and repair insulation covering pipes on the roof of defendant's power plant. The pipes were in a recessed area which ran the entire length of the roof. In the center of this recess was a trough, 18 to 36 inches wide and 12 inches deep, carrying a stream of hot oil, 4 to 5 inches in depth. As plaintiff was about to step across this trough, he slipped and fell backward causing his right foot and ankle to become immersed in the oil. For reasons which follow, we hold that the accident was not covered by section 240 (1).

I

At the close of the evidence in the jury trial, plaintiff moved for a directed verdict on the issue of liability upon the ground that defendant had violated section 240 (1) in failing to provide required safety devices and that under that section his culpable conduct, if any, could not be considered. The court denied this motion and also refused plaintiff's request that it submit the case to the jury as being covered by section 240 (1). Instead, the court submitted the case under section 241 (6) which places upon owners and contractors the duty of providing reasonable and adequate protection and safety to persons working on the job. Under section 241 (6) — as contrasted with section 240 (1) — culpable conduct of the injured person is relevant. Accordingly, the jury considered plaintiff's comparative fault and returned a verdict apportioning 10% of the fault for the accident to defendant and 90% to plaintiff. Plaintiff's damages were thus reduced by 90%. On plaintiff's appeal to the Appellate Division, that court held that the trial court had properly submitted the case to the jury as being governed by section 241 (6) rather than section 240 (1), as plaintiff had requested. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the judgment insofar as it reflected the reduction in plaintiff's award and modified in other respects ( 167 A.D.2d 524). We granted plaintiff leave to appeal and now affirm.

The modification consisted of a reversal of the defendant's recovery in its third-party action against King Insulation Company and a dismissal of the third-party complaint. Defendant has not cross-appealed.

II

Section 240 (1) of the Labor Law, entitled "Scaffolding and other devices for use of employees", requires that all contractors and owners "in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure shall furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection to a person so employed" (emphasis added). The legislative purpose behind this enactment is to protect "workers by placing `ultimate responsibility for safety practices at building construction jobs where such responsibility actually belongs, on the owner and general contractor' (1969 N.Y. Legis Ann, at 407), instead of on workers, who `are scarcely in a position to protect themselves from accident' (Koenig v Patrick Constr. Co., 298 N.Y. 313, 318)" (Zimmer v Chemung County Performing Arts, 65 N.Y.2d 513, 520).

It is settled that section 240 (1) "`is to be construed as liberally as may be for the accomplishment of the purpose for which it was thus framed'. (See Quigley v. Thatcher, 207 N.Y. 66, 68.)" (Koenig v Patrick Constr. Corp., 298 N.Y. 313, 319.) Thus, we have interpreted the section as imposing absolute liability for a breach which has proximately caused an injury. Negligence, if any, of the injured worker is of no consequence (see, Bland v Manocherian, 66 N.Y.2d 452, 459-461; Zimmer v Chemung County Performing Arts, supra, at 521; Koenig v Patrick Constr. Corp., supra). In furtherance of this same legislative purpose of protecting workers "against the known hazards of the occupation" (Koenig v Patrick Constr. Corp., supra, at 319), we have determined that the duty under section 240 (1) is nondelegable and that an owner is liable for a violation of the section even though the job was performed by an independent contractor over which it exercised no supervision or control (see, Haimes v New York Tel. Co., 46 N.Y.2d 132, 136-137).

This appeal turns on a question that we have not yet fully addressed: the nature of those occupational hazards which the Legislature intended should warrant the absolute protection that the statute affords. Manifestly, a violation of the statute cannot "establish liability if the statute is intended to protect against a particular hazard, and a hazard of a different kind is the occasion of the injury" (DeHaen v Rockwood Sprinkler Co., 258 N.Y. 350, 353). To ascertain the sort of risk contemplated by section 240 (1), we look first to the statutory wording (see, Price v Price, 69 N.Y.2d 8, 15). While section 240 (1) does not purport to specify the hazards to be avoided, it does specify protective means for the hazards' avoidance. The types of devices which the statute prescribes "shall be so constructed, placed and operated" (emphasis added) as to avoid the contemplated hazards are: "scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices" (id.). Some of the enumerated devices (e.g., "scaffolding" and "ladders"), it is evident, are for the use or protection of persons in gaining access to or working at sites where elevation poses a risk. Other listed devices (e.g., "hoists", "blocks", "braces", "irons", and "stays") are used as well for lifting or securing loads and materials employed in the work.

The various tasks in which these devices are customarily needed or employed share a common characteristic. All entail a significant risk inherent in the particular task because of the relative elevation at which the task must be performed or at which materials or loads must be positioned or secured. The contemplated hazards are those related to the effects of gravity where protective devices are called for either because of a difference between the elevation level of the required work and a lower level or a difference between the elevation level where the worker is positioned and the higher level of the materials or load being hoisted or secured. It is because of the special hazards in having to work in these circumstances, we believe, that the Legislature has seen fit to give the worker the exceptional protection that section 240 (1) provides. Consistent with this statutory purpose we have applied section 240 (1) in circumstances where there are risks related to elevation differentials (see, e.g., Bland v Manocherian, 66 N.Y.2d 452, supra; Zimmer v Chemung County Performing Arts, 65 N.Y.2d 513, supra; Izrailev v Ficarra Furniture, 70 N.Y.2d 813; Koenig v Patrick Constr. Corp., supra; Haimes v New York Tel. Co., supra). In cases such as these, the proper "erection", "construction", "placement" or "operation" of one or more devices of the sort listed in section 240 (1) would allegedly have prevented the injury (see also, DeHaen v Rockwood Sprinkler Co., supra, at 354).

III

In the case before us, the question is whether the circumstances surrounding plaintiff's work subjected him to the sort of risk which section 240 (1) was intended to obviate. Plaintiff contends that there was some elevation-related risk inherent in having to work near the 12-inch trough and that "a slip and fall, be it only a matter of inches, into a highly caustic substance such as heated industrial oil should * * * be deemed within section 240(1)'s embrace". We disagree. While the extent of the elevation differential may not necessarily determine the existence of an elevation-related risk, it is difficult to imagine how plaintiff's proximity to the 12-inch trough could have entailed an elevation-related risk which called for any of the protective devices of the types listed in section 240 (1).

Plaintiff urges, nevertheless — assuming that we conclude that the hazard he faced was not elevation-related — that we should adopt a construction of section 240 (1) which focuses "upon the degree rather than the type of hazard" involved. He maintains that the case should have been submitted to the jury under section 240 (1) because the trough carrying the hot oil through the slippery, oil-covered area where he was required to walk presented a particularly dangerous condition. He argues that the "fluid approach [he would have us adopt] comports * * * with the statutory purpose of protecting workers in `dangerous employment'" and is consistent with the legislative history of section 240 (1). Again, we disagree.

Plaintiff's proposed construction conflicts with the thrust of section 240 (1) in mandating devices having a specific purpose: the protection against risks due in some way to relative differences in elevation. Moreover, as defendant points out, adopting plaintiff's "degree of hazard" interpretation would have the effect of making Labor Law § 241 (6) — the general provision requiring owners and contractors to provide safe working conditions — virtually useless. Cases involving injuries due to allegedly dangerous working conditions, such as plaintiff's — which are now governed by section 241 (6) — would properly be brought under the far more stringent provisions of section 240 (1) where absolute liability could result. It is an accepted rule that all parts of a statute are intended to be given effect and that a statutory construction which renders one part meaningless should be avoided (see, Matter of Albano v Kirby, 36 N.Y.2d 526, 530).

The order of the Appellate Division should be affirmed, with costs.

Chief Judge WACHTLER and Judges SIMONS, KAYE, ALEXANDER, TITONE and BELLACOSA concur.

Order affirmed, with costs.


Summaries of

Rocovich v. Consol Edison Co.

Court of Appeals of the State of New York
Nov 25, 1991
78 N.Y.2d 509 (N.Y. 1991)

holding that "[i]t is an accepted rule that all parts of a statute are intended to be given effect and that a statutory construction which renders one part meaningless should be avoided"

Summary of this case from Lower E. Side Organized Neighbors v. N.Y.C. Planning Comm'n

finding that fall into 12-inch trough on roof was not covered by the statute

Summary of this case from Villalba v. Robo-Breaking Co.

In Rocovich v. Consolidated Edison Co., 78 N.Y.2d 509, 577 N.Y.S.2d 219, 583 N.E.2d 932 (1991), the New York Court of Appeals pointed out that while the hazards against which the statute is directed are not spelled out, they can be inferred from the "protective means" set forth in the statute "for the hazards' avoidance."

Summary of this case from McNeight v. Railcar Custom Leasing

In Rocovich v. Consolidated Edison Co., supra, 78 N.Y.2d at 515, 577 N.Y.S.2d at 222, 583 N.E.2d at 934-35, the Court of Appeals rejected the concept of permitting plaintiff to assert a cause of action pursuant to § 240(1) of the Labor Law merely because plaintiff was working in a situation with a "greater degree of hazard."

Summary of this case from Violette v. Armonk Associates, L.P.

In Rocovich v. Consolidated Edison Co., 78 N.Y.2d 509, 577 N.Y.S.2d 219, 583 N.E.2d 932 (1991), we clarified that “extent of the elevation differential” (here, measured by the depth of the trench) is not necessarily dispositive (id. at 514, 577 N.Y.S.2d 219, 583 N.E.2d 932) and on this basis I conclude that based on plaintiff's deposition testimony as to the depth of the trench (which we must take as true for purposes of deciding defendants' motions for summary judgment), there was a significant elevation differential in this case.

Summary of this case from Salazar v. Novalex Contracting Corp.

In Rocovich, the plaintiff was injured at his work site when his right ankle and foot accidentally became immersed in hot oil in a 12–inch–deep trough (see id. at 511, 577 N.Y.S.2d 219, 583 N.E.2d 932).

Summary of this case from Wilinski v. 334 East 92nd Hous. Dev. Fund Corp.

In Rocovich v. Consolidated Edison Co. (78 NY2d 509), we discussed the occupational hazards against which this statute was directed.

Summary of this case from Toefer v. Long Is. R.R

In Rocovich, the plaintiff was walking on a roof when he slipped and his foot became immersed in a trough carrying hot oil.

Summary of this case from Striegel v. Hillcrest Heights Dev. Corp.

In Rocovich v Consolidated Edison Co. (78 N.Y.2d 509), we first addressed the question of "the nature of those occupational hazards which the Legislature intended should warrant the absolute protection that the statute affords" (id., at 513).

Summary of this case from Melber v. 6333 Main Street, Inc.

In Rocovich v Consolidated Edison Co. (78 N.Y.2d 509, 514, supra), we noted that section 240 was intended to apply where there are "risks related to elevation differentials".

Summary of this case from Gordon v. Eastern Ry. Supply

In Rocovich (78 NY2d at 511-512), the plaintiff worker injured his foot and ankle when he fell into a 12-inch trough containing heated industrial oil.

Summary of this case from Thome v. Benchmark Main Transit Associates

In Rocovich, the Court of Appeals found that there was no liability under Labor Law § 240 because it was "difficult to imagine how plaintiff's proximity to" a 12-inch deep, 18-to-36-inch-wide trough carrying a stream of hot oil "could have entailed an elevation-related risk" (78 NY2d at 514-515).

Summary of this case from Salazar v. Novalex Contr. Corp.

In Rocovich v. Consolidated Edison Co. (78 N.Y.2d 509), the Court of Appeals determined that the contemplated hazards of Labor Law § 240 Lab.(1) were those related to the effects of gravity, which required protective devices because of either a difference between the elevation level of the required work and a lower level or the difference between the elevation level of materials and a lower level where a worker was present.

Summary of this case from Becerra v. City of New York

In Rocovich v. Consolidated Edison Co. (78 N.Y.2d 509, 514), the Court of Appeals stated that the hazards contemplated by the statute are "those related to the effects of gravity where protective devices are called for either because of a difference between the elevation level of the required work and a lower level or a difference between the elevation level where the worker is positioned and the higher level of the materials or load being hoisted or secured."

Summary of this case from Dominguez v. Lafayette-Boynton Housing Corp.

In Rocovich v. Consolidated Edison Co. (78 N.Y.2d 509), the Court of Appeals defined the scope of Labor Law § 240 (1) as encompassing only special hazards inherent in elevation-related tasks (supra, at 514).

Summary of this case from Gill v. Samuel Kosoff Sons, Inc.

In Rocovich v Consolidated Edison Co. (78 N.Y.2d 509), the Court of Appeals held that Labor Law § 240 (1) was inapplicable because the injury was not caused by an elevation-related risk (supra, at 514-515).

Summary of this case from Bryant v. General Electric Company

In Rocovich, the Court attempted to clear up some of the confusion in Labor Law § 240 (1) cases in the various courts and to definitively define the scope of work site activities embraced by the statute.

Summary of this case from Smith v. N.Y. Elec. Gas Corp.

In Rocovich v. Consolidated Edison Co. (78 N.Y.2d 509), the Court of Appeals, in addressing the nature of the occupational hazards which the Legislature intended workers to be protected against, concluded that the devices enumerated in the statute all relate "to the effects of gravity * * * either because of a difference between the elevation level of the required work and a lower level or a difference between the elevation level where the worker is positioned and the higher level of the materials or load being hoisted or secured" (id., at 514).

Summary of this case from Bilderback v. Agway Petroleum Corporation

In Rocovich v. Consolidated Edison Co., 78 N.Y.2d 509 (1991), we discussed the occupational hazards against which this statute was directed.

Summary of this case from Robinson v. HVA 125 LLC

In Rocovich, the Court noted that "[w]hile section 240 (1) does not purport to specify the hazards to be avoided, it does specify protective means for the hazards' avoidance."

Summary of this case from Lehman v. Shelter Valley, LLC

In Rocovich v Consolidated Edison Co. (78 NY2d 509, 514 [1991]) the Court of Appeals addressed, for the first time, the nature of the occupational hazards which Labor Law § 240 (1) was intended to protect against.

Summary of this case from Skrzypczak v. State

In Rocovich v Consolidated Edison Co. (78 NY2d at 514 [1991]), the Court of Appeals observed that Labor Law §240 (1) was enacted to protect workers against "hazards... related to the effects of gravity where protective devices are called for either because of a difference between the elevation level of the required work and a lower level or a difference between the elevation level where the worker is positioned and the higher level of the materials or load being hoisted or secured.

Summary of this case from Colella v. Port Auth. of New York & New Jersey

In Rocovich v Consolidated Edison Co (78 NY2d 509, 577 NYS2d 219 [1991]), the Court of Appeals noted that the hazards contemplated and leading to the enactment of Labor Law §240(1) are those related to the effects of gravity where protective devices are called for either because of a difference between the elevation level of the required work and a lower level or a difference between the elevation level where the worker is positioned and the higher level of the materials or load being hoisted or secured.

Summary of this case from Wilson v. Ceacrest Constr. Corp.

In Rocovich v Consolidated Edison Co (78 NY2d 509, 577 NYS2d 219 [1991]), the Court of Appeals noted that the hazards contemplated and leading to the enactment of Labor Law § 240 (1) are those related to the effects of gravity where protective devices are called for either because of a difference between the elevation level of the required work and a lower level or a difference between the elevation level where the worker is positioned and the higher level of the materials or load being hoisted or secured.

Summary of this case from Kearney v. Bay Hills Prop. Owners, Inc.

In Rocovich v. Consolidated Edison Co., 78 N.Y.2d 509 [1991], the Court of Appeals held that liability under the statute would be applied only in cases arising from risks related to elevation differentials.

Summary of this case from Dumas v. Myrtle Ave. Builders, LLC
Case details for

Rocovich v. Consol Edison Co.

Case Details

Full title:DONALD ROCOVICH, Appellant, v. CONSOLIDATED EDISON COMPANY, Respondent…

Court:Court of Appeals of the State of New York

Date published: Nov 25, 1991

Citations

78 N.Y.2d 509 (N.Y. 1991)
577 N.Y.S.2d 219
583 N.E.2d 932

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