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THE BROKEN ELEVATOR
Q: My wife was an elevator mechanic. On her last day, she reported to a
residential building, in order to repair a malfunctioning elevator car. The elevator
motor room was located on the roof of the building. Nell could get to the room only by
climbing a fixed, permanent ladder. After completing her work in the motor room, she
began to descend the ladder. Sadly, her foot slipped on one of the ladder’s metal rungs.
A: Under section 240(1) of the Labor Law, an owner often is required to
furnish “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 worker. The statute applies to “the erection, demolition,
repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure”.
The elevator qualifies as a ‘structure’, which is defined, for the purposes of
section 240(1), as any “production or piece of work artificially built up or composed of
parts joined together in some definite manner”.
Whenever an elevator has trapped its passengers between floors, or is
otherwise malfunctioning, then the work is “repairing” within the meaning of the
statute. On the other hand, when the elevator has been working properly, then the
work is more likely to have been mere routine maintenance – and not within the
coverage of section 240(1).
From what you say, it seems clear that your wife was engaged in a covered
activity – repair work – within the meaning of the statute. Your attorney can argue,
with force, that the ladder was a safety device which unfortunately was not “so
constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection”.