Today’s Verdict: RENOVATING? HOMEOWNERS MAY BE RESPONSIBLE FOR INJURED WORKERS

David Lesch-headshotRENOVATING? HOMEOWNERS MAY BE RESPONSIBLE FOR INJURED WORKERS

by David P. Lesch, Esq. 

 

Renovating one’s home is exciting.  Yes it could be costly but once the job is finished you can bask in the light of your new patio, living room, bathroom or home extension.  When we set out to tackle a major home improvement project it is important to seek out a reputable contractor who will set the project in motion.  

 

Personally, I have renovated an apartment in New York City.  From the time work began to point I was able to move in, a year had elapsed.  During that time I stayed far away from the work in progress so as to not be a distraction.  But I also stayed away because I was aware of Section 240 and 241 of the Labor Law of the State of New York.  

 

Focusing on Section 240 that law provides as follows, All contractors and owners and their agents, except owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work, in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure shall furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, 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 person so employed. 

 

Now read that portion again, slowly and carefully. Section 240 says that a homeowner can be just as responsible for any injuries that occur during the renovations as the contractor.  You wouldn’t think this is possible but it is.  When a worker is injured while performing renovations he usually will begin collecting Worker’s Compensation.  But the Worker’s Compensation law of the State of New York bars the injured employee from suing his employer.  However, the employee will want to find restitution from another party.  Enter the homeowner.  

 

I have such a case pending in Westchester County whereby I have brought an action against two homeowners who I am holding responsible for the injury that occurred to my client.  In that action, the worker was performing electrical work on their property and was injured during the course of his employment.  Of course the homeowners are not the least bit happy about this.  Nor is the insurance company.  But the purpose of the statute is clear.  It is to obligate the homeowner to provide safety equipment for the workers. A review of the statute does suggest that a homeowner is protected under a particular “exception.”    

 

But that exception only protects owners of a one or two family “dwelling” or home. And here is the more important part,  to take advantage of this exception, the owner of a family dwelling or home must completely avoid any and all “direction” or “control” of the work being done.  That means the owner should not be involved at all in the performance of the work or her/she will not benefit from this exception.  

 

In the case that I am arguing in Westchester, it is my contention that the homeowner’s directed my client to perform particular work and therefore took themselves out of the exception which is a lesson to be learned by all homeowners who own a one or two family home.  If you hire a contractor to do the work, stay away from the area and try not to become the general contractor.  Because if you do, attorneys who are knowledgeable of the law will look to a deep pocket and make sure that, if the Worker’s Compensation law prevents recovery, you as a homeowner will be the target.  

 

After all, a worker doing a renovation deserves all the protections possible as well as all legal remedies available.   

 

Todays Verdict_David LeschDavid P. Lesch is an attorney and host of ‘Today’s Verdict with David Lesch‘ on Bronxnet. Today”s Verdict airs Tuesday nights at 6:30pm, Cablevision channel 67, Fios channel 33. On Facebook and Twitter @DavidLesch.