A recent decision by the Appellate Division First Department will have an impact on how cases are litigated in New York. In Krzyzanowski v. City of New York, 2020 WL 201247 (1st Dept. 2020) the Appellate Division, First Department modified an order of the Supreme Court, New York County (Margaret A. Chan, J.) which denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing the Labor Law § 241(6) claim based upon a violation of Industrial Code 12 NYCRR § 23-1.7(e)(1), and granted plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment on that claim. On appeal, the Appellate Division found that plaintiff was not entitled to summary judgment and modified Judge Chan’s decision.
Importantly, the case required the appellate court to directly address whether the “integral-to-the work” defense raised by defendants, but rejected by Supreme Court, equally applies to Industrial Code § 23-1.7(e)(1), as well as § 23-1.7(e)(2). The First Department held that it does.
In rendering its decision, the Appellate Division found that “[t]o the extent that our decision in Singh v 1221 Holdings, LLC (127 AD3d 607 [1st Dept 2015]), states otherwise, it directly conflicts with the Court of Appeals’ holding in O’Sullivan v IDI Constr. Co., Inc. (7 NY3d 805, 806 , affg 28 AD3d 225 [1st Dept 2006]), and we decline to follow Singh. As more recently stated by this Court, ‘[T]he integral part of work defense’ applies to 12 NYCRR 23-1.7(e)(1)’ (Conlon v The Carnegie Hall Socy., Inc., 159 AD3d 655 [1st Dept 2018]). Thus Conlon, not Singh, is in line with the Court of Appeals’ view of how and when this defense may be applied. Accordingly, as a general rule, where masonite is ‘an integral part of the construction,’ a Labor Law § 241(6) claim whether predicated on an alleged violation of Industrial Code 12 NYCRR § 23-1.7(e)(1), or (e) (2), should be dismissed (Conlon, supra.)”.
In Krzyzanowski plaintiff claimed he was injured when he walked down a hallway between rooms that he was assigned to paint. He tripped on wooden boards that were laying on the floor. He described the boards as being loose, overlapping and unsecured. Plaintiff testified that as a coworker stepped on a board, it sprang up, and plaintiff caught his foot beneath it, causing him to trip. Plaintiff alleged the boards were a tripping hazard and a violation of Industrial Code § 23-1.7(e)(1) because defendants failed to provide him with a passageway free of obstructions. Defendants argued that there was no liability because the boards were masonite, not scattered materials or debris, and because they were purposefully laid out upon the floor each day, this being “integral to” the renovation work being performed.
The First Department held that the facts presented were at least sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact regarding whether the boards were a “protective covering [that] had been purposefully installed on the floor as an integral part of the renovation project.”
In addition, summary judgment in favor of plaintiff was held to be improper because it was based on the mistaken supposition that the “integral-to-work” defense means integral to plaintiff’s specific task. As clarified by the Appellate Division, “[t]he defense applies to things and conditions that are an integral part of the construction, not just to the specific task a plaintiff may be performing at the time of the accident (O’Sullivan, 7 NY3d at 805).”
The Court’s decision demonstrates the critical nature of developing the strongest defense by early investigation about the nature of the client’s work when defending these types of claims.