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  • Writer's pictureLeitner Varughese Warywoda

Personal Injury Law Decisions in New York: A Summary of Recent Cases


"First Department Ruling Provides Clarity on 'Rescue Doctrine' in Construction Site Lawsuits"


The "rescue doctrine" is an age-old principle that has long applied in personal injury cases. In short, it holds that bystanders who observe an incident placing a person in peril will be impelled to rescue that person. Recently, in a landmark decision, the Appellate Division, First Department of New York, addressed whether the doctrine applied to personal-injury lawsuits brought under a state Labor Law section that ties itself to Industrial Code safety provisions at construction sites.


"Workers who observe a coworker in peril may feel a heightened obligation to assist that coworker, with whom the rescuer may have a bond of shared experience and endeavor," said the Appellate Division in a detailed, signed opinion. The ruling was a unanimous decision, which reversed a lower court that had granted summary judgment on the "rescue doctrine" application question.


The underlying lawsuits' defendants, New York City and the city Transit Authority, had successfully argued in a Bronx trial court that injuries suffered by a construction-worker plaintiff who'd immediately helped an injured co-worker "did not arise from a violation of any of the cited Industrial Code provisions that could provide a necessary predicate to a claim" under Labor Law § 241(6). However, the Appellate Division's decision provides clarity on the matter, stating the doctrine's applicability as a central principle in rescue missions aiming to maintain safety at the construction site.


The court explained that Labor Law § 241(6) is designed to encourage owners and contractors to comply with the state's Industrial Code. By protecting all workers placed at risk by noncompliance with the Industrial Code, including workers who seek to rescue their coworkers, the Labor Law's central purpose is advanced. This ruling underscores the importance of protecting all workers at construction sites and could encourage compliant and safe practices amongst owners and contractors.


The "rescue doctrine" ruling bolsters New York construction workers' rights and provides clarity on the doctrine's use in Labor Law cases. Indeed, the decision could aid plaintiffs who allege they were injured while trying to rescue a colleague in need at a construction site. "The rescue doctrine is one of several legal theories to help hold defendants liable for injuries that happen on job sites. Its protection is especially critical to construction workers, whose job is inherently hazardous, and who often work in close proximity to other workers, making for scenarios where rescues may be necessary," said an attorney focused on construction-related personal injury litigation.


In recent years, construction fatality rates have been increasing. The sector has experienced a growing accident rate, which has left some workers feeling vulnerable. With this recent ruling, workers can be safer and feel more confident in taking steps to help their colleagues on job sites. The First Department's decision sets a clear precedent that could help protect workers' rights, improving safety, and helping provide a safer job environment not only in New York but nationwide.


It's important to note that before the recent landmark decision, the First Department, an intermediate court handling appeals from Manhattan and the Bronx, had never previously taken up this issue. And now, this ruling will serve as an important milestone for construction workers across New York State and potentially nationwide.


We can only hope that the recent ruling will be instrumental in creating safer working conditions for construction workers and furthering their rights. The ruling is a small but necessary step towards achieving greater safety regulations for all workers and enhancing their rights to work in a safe environment.


The First Department had not previously addressed whether the century-and-a-half-old doctrine, which has long applied in personal injury situations, can be used in Labor Law cases. But now, a panel of five justices unanimously confirmed the doctrine's applicability and provided a detailed opinion for reasoning.


The doctrine is based on an assumption about human behavior, stating that bystanders who observe an incident placing a person in peril will be impelled to rescue that person.


According to the ruling, workers who observe a coworker in peril may feel a heightened obligation to assist that coworker, with whom the rescuer may have a bond of shared experience and endeavor.


Furthermore, the court explained that Labor Law § 241(6) is designed to encourage owners and contractors to comply with the state’s Industrial Code. By protecting all workers placed at risk by noncompliance with the Industrial Code, including workers who seek to rescue their coworkers, the Labor Law’s central purpose is thus advanced.


The unanimous ruling was a reversal of a lower court that had granted summary judgement on the “rescue doctrine”-application question. The underlying lawsuits’ defendants, the New York City and the city Transit Authority, had successfully argued in a Bronx trial court that injuries suffered by a construction-worker plaintiff who’d immediately helped an injured co-worker “did not arise from a violation of any of the cited Industrial Code provisions that could provide a necessary predicate to a claim” under Labor Law § 241(6).


The appellate court's ruling is a landmark legal clarification with potential ramifications for the construction industry and beyond. The decision sets a clear precedent that could aid plaintiffs who allege they were injured while trying to rescue a colleague in need at a construction site.


The ruling underscores the importance of protecting all workers at construction sites and could help encourage the compliant and safe practices amongst owners and contractors.


"Exclusive Control of Building's Safety: Court Holds Property Manager & Owner Liable"


In a recent court case, a plaintiff sued Langsam Property Services Corp. and Newstart Realty Housing Development Fund Company for personal injuries sustained after stepping onto a bathroom floor that collapsed. The plaintiff sought summary judgment pursuant to CPLR §3212 on the issue of liability. The defendants claimed that the plaintiff and other tenants had control and use of the flooring in the bathroom and that the accident may have been caused by overuse or misuse of the water facilities. However, the court found that the plaintiff's accident was an event which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone's negligence and that the defendants had exclusive control over the ceiling in the boiler room. The defendants failed to submit any evidence to rebut the permissible inference of negligence, and accordingly, the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability was granted. The Court decision emphasizes the importance of maintaining safe living conditions for building tenants and the need for property managers to take residents' complaints seriously.


"Continuous Treatment Doctrine: How it Can Affect the Statute of Limitations in Malpractice Cases"

Ordower v. Kassapidis, Supreme Court, New York (Judge: Justice John J. Kelley, Case Number: 805270/2019), is a medical malpractice case where the plaintiff is seeking damages from the defendant orthopedic surgeon. The plaintiff alleges that the surgeon improperly conducted a left knee replacement surgery, by placing the implant in an incorrect position and failing to align the device correctly. Consequently, the plaintiff suffered knee derangement, necessitating additional surgeries to remove scarring and resolve balance issues, pain, and limited motion. The plaintiff further claims that they may require additional surgery to remove and replace the implant in the future.


The defendant orthopedic surgeon filed a motion for summary judgment, insisting that the plaintiff did not file the lawsuit timely. According to the defendant, the plaintiff's last visit with him was more than two years and six months after the alleged negligent surgery. In contrast, the plaintiff argues that the continuous treatment doctrine tolls the limitations period. Therefore, the commencement of the legal action on August 21, 2019, was timely.

The court denied the defendant's motion for summary judgment, reasoning that the plaintiff raised triable issues of fact as to whether the continuous treatment doctrine applies. The court noted that the plaintiff's future surgery needs and history of treatment with the defendant before and after the December 4, 2015 surgery were significant factors to consider when deciding whether the limitation period should toll.


In conclusion, this case of medical malpractice highlights the importance of adhering to the legal requirements for filing malpractice lawsuits. Patients who feel that they have suffered harm from medical practitioners should seek legal advice from qualified attorneys who specialize in medical malpractice cases. On the other hand, medical practitioners should ensure that they adhere to best practices and industry guidelines while providing care to avoid malpractice suits.


"Legal Battle Over Falling Panel: Martinez v. St. Mary's School Decision"


In Collins v. St. Mary's RC CH, Supreme Court, Kings (Justice Wayne P. Saitta, Index no. 500441/2017), the plaintiff sought damages for injuries sustained after a wood panel from a partially dismantled sidewalk shed fell on her. The court considered claims against three defendants: St. Mary's School, which owned the premises where the incident occurred; Victoria Restoration & Construction, the company responsible for dismantling the sidewalk shed; and Phoenix Street Associates, the company contracted to perform work on the building adjacent to the shed.


In this case, the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment against three defendants: St. Mary's School, Victoria Restoration & Construction, and Phoenix Street Associates. The plaintiff alleged that a wood panel from a partially dismantled sidewalk shed fell on her, causing her to sustain injuries.

The plaintiff argued that St. Mary's School was liable for her injuries because it owned the premises where the incident occurred and the partially secured panel was a dangerous condition. The plaintiff also alleged that St. Mary's School was negligent in allowing parents to pick up students from the area where the sidewalk shed was partially dismantled. However, the plaintiff's papers failed to demonstrate that St. Mary's School had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition.

The plaintiff further claimed that Victoria Restoration & Construction was responsible for dismantling the sidewalk shed and therefore it was liable for her injuries. However, there was no evidence that Victoria had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition that caused the plaintiff's injuries.

As for Phoenix Street Associates, the plaintiff argued that its work on the building adjacent to the sidewalk shed led to the dangerous condition, and therefore it was also liable. However, the court found that the plaintiff failed to provide any evidence linking Phoenix Street Associates' work to the dangerous condition.

The court ultimately denied the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment against all three defendants. The court found that there were unresolved questions of fact as to whether the defendants had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition, which precluded granting summary judgment.

Regarding the defendants' cross-claims against each other, St. Mary's School only sought indemnification from the co-defendants, and its motion was granted in part as none of the co-defendants produced a contract requiring indemnification. However, St. Mary's School's motion for summary judgment on its cross-claims against co-defendants was denied as its answer did not set forth specific cross-claims.

Victoria Restoration & Construction sought to dismiss cross-claims against it for contractual and common law indemnification and contribution. The court granted Victoria's motion to dismiss contractual indemnification cross-claims as there was no evidence of a contractual obligation to indemnify. The court denied its motion to dismiss common law indemnification and contribution cross-claims as the question of whether Victoria had knowledge of the dangerous condition was unresolved.

Phoenix Street Associates sought to dismiss cross-claims against it for contractual indemnification and contribution, and the court granted the motion as there was no evidence of a contractual obligation to indemnify. However, its cross-claims for common law indemnification and contribution remained.

Overall, the court's decision emphasized the importance of factual evidence and clear contractual obligations in determining liability in construction-related accidents. The court emphasized that summary judgment cannot be granted when there are unresolved questions of fact, and dismissed claims lacking sufficient contractual or factual evidence.

Court Denies Summary Judgment in Personal Injury Case Involving Automotive Collision on Issue of Serious Injury Under Insurance Law §5102(d)


A recent personal injury case, filed on April 6, 2023, in the Supreme Court of Kings in New York, highlights the complexities of determining liability and whether a plaintiff has sustained a "serious injury" under New York Insurance Law §5102(d).


The plaintiff in this case was a passenger in a vehicle owned by Limo Seven Transportation and operated by Abdurasul Makgmudov when they were involved in a collision with a vehicle owned and operated by defendant Jae Taek Shim. The plaintiff alleged that she sustained serious injuries to her knees, shoulder, and spine, including a "disabling injury for a period in excess of 90 out of the first 180 days" following the accident.


Both the limo defendants and defendant Shim moved for summary judgment to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the plaintiff failed to show she sustained a serious injury under New York Insurance Law §5102(d). However, the court denied both motions.


In denying Shim's motion, the court found that there were issues of fact as to whether he was a proximate cause of the accident. Shim admitted in his deposition that the Limo Seven Transportation vehicle was stopped before he collided with it. This admission raised a question of fact as to Shim's liability for the accident.


As for the limo defendants' motion, the court found that the plaintiff's testimony was sufficient to establish a non-conclusory allegation of a 90/180 claim, which means that she was unable to perform her usual and customary activities for more than 90 out of the first 180 days following the accident. Defendants failed to rebut this evidence, leading the court to deny their motion for summary judgment.


This case serves as a reminder of the importance of thoroughly investigating the facts surrounding an accident and seeking legal expertise when pursuing a personal injury claim. It also underscores the need to understand New York's complex standards for determining whether a plaintiff has sustained a "serious injury" under Insurance Law §5102(d) and when a plaintiff may pursue a 90/180 claim.

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