In a case questioning whether the installation and removal of a highway billboard advertisement qualified as “altering” under Labor Law §240(1)’s Scaffolding Law, the Court vociferously rejected defendant’s contention that only permanent alterations to a structure qualified for protection under the statute.
In the matter of Saint v. Syracuse Supply Company decided April 2, 2015, the plaintiff, Joseph Saint, fell 10 feet when a gust of wind caused a portion of the new billboard, not yet affixed, to knock into plaintiff, pushing him off a catwalk. At the time of the gust of wind, plaintiff had detached his lanyard momentarily in order to get around one of his co-workers and place himself in a better position to help his co-workers as they struggled with the installation owing to the windy conditions. Plaintiff landed on another catwalk 10 feet below and was injured.
While the majority of the Court’s decision is spent in a factual analysis explaining why the installation of the billboard advertisement constituted “altering” (covered by the statute) versus “routine maintenance” or “cosmetic modification” (not covered by the statute), the Court had to tackle an alternative argument made by the defendants.
Specifically, the defendant argued that only permanent alterations to a structure constituted ‘altering’ under the statute. The Court was firm in its rebuke: “Nowhere does section 240(1) impose or even mention a requirement that an alteration be of a permanent and fixed nature. Such a reading is at odds with the Court’s prior decisions.” Later the Court specified: “The change to the physical attributes of the structure is what matters” — not whether the changes are permanent.
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