Many of our clients own commercial buildings or multifamily residential buildings and may not be aware of their legal exposure when having construction, renovation, or repair work performed on these buildings.

Labor Law sections 240 and 241 apply to these types of buildings and can be devastating to the unknowing owner. If any worker falls from height, or has an accident involving a gravity-related risk while the work is being performed, the owner and general contractor are absolutely liable.

To adequately protect owners, first and foremost, only reputable contractors should be hired. In the contract between the owner and contractor, the parties must agree that the contractor and any subcontractor will indemnify and hold the owner harmless for all losses arising out of the work to be performed. It is imperative that the owner be named as an additional insured on all policies of insurance and that the policies be reviewed to ensure they contain the proper language.

Assuming all of the foregoing is done and an accident occurs, what happens immediately after the accident is very important. Do not rely upon the contractor or subcontractor to do what is right. As the owner, get involved or have your attorney or other representative become involved in the investigation immediately. This initial investigation is of paramount importance in terms of preparing a defense.

The steps to take immediately are: prepare an accident report, secure and preserve any equipment involved, photograph the area, obtain statements from all involved parties and witnesses, make copies of all contracts and insurance policies (as well as certificates of insurance), and notify all primary and excess insurance carriers.

For large projects, the burden of the investigation is usually shifted to a general contractor or construction manager. For small projects, the owner should have a simple and clear policy for doing its own initial investigation. Of course, our office can always assist in this process.

All incidents involving gravity-related risks or industrial code violations resulting in injuries to construction workers must be considered serious. This is true no matter how minor or inconsequential an accident seems. Even minor injuries can develop into career-ending injuries, thereby exposing property owners to astronomical damages.