Friday, September 14, 2012

A Chupah IS A Structure

A chupah is a "structure" for purposes of an injured worker's New York Labor Law claim.

The state has some interesting legacy laws that date back to the early development of Manhattan and New York City - many of these laws deal with the peculiar risk of working at heights, related to construction of tall buildings, understandably.

Fast forward to the 20th century and many of these laws are still on the books, and are still subject to interpretation, including what is a "structure".

Samuel McCoy worked as a truck driver for Atlas Florists. In August 2008, he fell from a ladder while disassembling a wedding chupah owned by his employer.

A chupah is a canopy under which brides and grooms stand during weddings conducted in the Jewish religious tradition. The one involved in McCoy's accident stood 10-feet tall, and was made up of pipe, wood and fabric.

McCoy later sued Abigail Kirsch, the owner of the premises where the chupah had been erected, and others to recover damages for violation of Labor Law Section 240(1). 240(1) is also known more commonly as the Scaffold Law. Its primary intent is to protect workers by instituting liability for failure to ensure safety working at heights, and primarily while working on scaffolding.

This statute imposes upon owners and general contractors a nondelegable duty to provide safety devices necessary to protect workers from risks inherent in elevated worksites. The statute's provisions are expressly applied "in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure."

The defendants moved to dismiss McCoy's claim, arguing that the chupah was not a "structure" within the meaning of Section 240(1).

At the trial level the complaint was dismissed, the judge ruling that a chupah was not a "structure".

On appeal the court pointed out case law that qualified "structures" as "constructs that are less substantial and perhaps more transitory than buildings," such as a utility pole with attached hardware and cables; a ticket booth at a convention center; a free-standing Shell gasoline sign; a crane used for construction; a crane used for construction; a power screen being assembled at a gravel pit; a pumping station; and a window exhibit at a home improvement show.

Things that aren't structures, under case law, include temporary decorations to a building used as a set for a television film; a sign hung from a ceiling; commercial dishwasher machines; and a decorative wooden disc suspended from a ceiling for use as a ceremonial wedding canopy.

The 2nd Appellate Division said a court should take into consideration the item's size, purpose, design, composition and degree of complexity; the ease or difficulty of its assembly and disassembly; the tools required to create it and dismantle it; the manner and degree of its interconnecting parts, and the amount of time the item is to exist. No one factor is controlling.

The chupah was "more akin to the things and devices which the courts of this state have recognized as structures than to the things and devices that have not been recognized as structures."

The case is McCoy v. Abigail Kirsch at Tappan Hill Inc., No. 2011-06907, 09/12/2012, and is a published decision.

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