A painter was injured when he slipped and fell on plastic at a construction site in lower Manhattan. Prior to the accident, the owner of the building hired a general contractor, who in turn hired the painter’s employer to perform painting work on the walls and ceiling around an escalator that connected the second and third floor of the building.
Heavy duty plastic was placed around the escalator to protect it from paint while the work was being performed. The painter had complained about the presence of the plastic, but was told to stop complaining, by his foreman.
Specifically, the painter told the foreman that there was no way that they could work on this plastic. The foreman told the painter that he had to do it. The painter relented and began to set up its work in the middle of the escalator when he slipped on the plastic and fell. The painter fell backwards onto the escalator together with a three-gallon paint bucket that was behind him, causing him to sustain serious injuries.
The painter said that the heavy duty plastic was not laid down by his employer, and that they had drop cloths at the jobsite that they would have used instead. He believed that it was placed there by the general contractor. However, the general contractor’s accident report indicated that the painter’s employer had laid down the plastic, and noted that all protection on the floor needed to be secured and properly installed.
The painter filed a lawsuit against the building owners and general contractor. Following the initial phase, he requested from the judge an automatic assessment of liability against the defendants. This means he asked the judge to review the facts of the case and decide that the building owner and the contractors (the defendants) were responsible for the painter’s accident.
The painter argued that the defendants failed to ensure that his work area was free from slipping hazards. The defendants argued that they were not responsible for the accident because the painter slipped on a plastic cover that was placed there purposefully, and thus was necessary for the work being performed.
The judge was not persuaded by the defendants’ argument. He noted that the painter was required to walk along the escalator to reach the area where he was to perform his work. The Court also held that simply because the plastic was intentionally installed does not absolve the defendants of liability. Drop cloths – which were on site and which are less slippery than plastic – could have been used instead. Additionally, the general contractor’s superintendent testified that he believed the plastic covering the escalator was the wrong type of protection.
Accordingly, the Court granted the painter’s request and directed a trial on the issue of damages only, to determine the amount of monetary damages for injured worker’s pain and suffering.
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