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Removal of a Hospital’s Chiller Unit Qualified as a Building ‘Alteration,’ Which Made a Bronx Worker’s Fatal Accident a Valid Basis for a ‘Scaffold Law’ Claim
October 18, 2018 at 11:00 PM
by Newman, Anzalone & Newman, LLP
Removal of a Hospital’s Chiller Unit Qualified as a Building ‘Alteration,’ Which Made a Bronx Worker’s Fatal Accident a Valid Basis for a ‘Scaffold Law’ Claim

When you get hurt working a construction job in New York, the law provides certain opportunities for compensation in various situations. These situations can include, among others, falls or blows from falling objects. To achieve a successful outcome, you’ll need more than just evidence of your fall or the falling object. You’ll need proof that the work you were doing was of a type that is covered by the Labor Law statutes. Sometimes, the classification of the work you were doing can make all the difference between success and failure. To make sure you are providing the court the proof you need to get the compensation you deserve, retain a skilled New York construction injury attorney to handle your case.

An example of a lawsuit that turned upon this “type of work” issue was the case of T.M.’s accident. T.M. was a worker performing activities outside a hospital in the Bronx. In the summer, the hospital was cooled by a chiller unit, which the facility rented. That chiller sat atop a trailer situated on 173rd Street, utilizing hoses that sat on some scaffolding that was also situated on 173rd Street.

In early December 2012, T.M. and some co-workers were tasked with disconnecting the rented chiller. A co-worker experienced problems getting some wood free from underneath the trailer. As the men worked, a chain holding the chiller snapped and the eight-ton chiller slid off the trailer and onto T.M. The impact crushed and killed the worker.

T.M.’s estate sued the hospital and others. Among the claims made was that the estate was entitled to damages based upon a violation of Section 240(1) of the Labor Law. That statute, often known as the “Scaffold Law,” protects workers from “elevation-related” risks. Clearly, a falling 16,000-pound chiller that was being hoisted would qualify as an elevation-related risk of harm and, just as clearly, the facts surrounding the breaking chain and the falling chiller showed that adequate safety measures were not employed.

However, to succeed in court, a worker must have been involved in a covered work activity. Activities that the Scaffold Law covers include the “”erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure.” The estate’s assertion was that the activity was covered by the law because the removal of the rented chiller qualified as an alteration to the building.

The Appellate Division agreed with that argument. The law says that work “being performed that affects a crucial building system” qualifies, but “work that only affected the provision of a service to a finite area within the building, or that only involved the removal of an object attached to the building with bolts but that… was not part of an important building-wide system, did not constitute an alteration.” In the estate’s case, T.M.’s work affected the hospital’s building-wide cooling system, which the hospital needed to use in order to meet regulatory requirements (such as maintaining the correct temperature for certain spaces like operating rooms.) The removal process involved much more than just unscrewing some bolts. Based on all of the evidence, the chiller removal process was an alteration and the estate allowed to assert a Section 240(1) case.

Whether you are hurt, or a loved one is killed, while working a construction job, the perils you face in the aftermath of tha