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Residential Buildings: Beware of Workplace Accidents

Liability, Real Property

When a worker gets injured while on the job, common sense and the law both dictate that the employer will, more often than not, be at least partially liable. New York Labor Law however, also extends this liability to the owners and managing agents of buildings where workers are injured.

Pursuant to section 200 of the New York Labor Law, building owners and managers are obligated to provide a safe working environment for workers.  Section 241(6) requires that areas in which work is being performed “shall be so constructed…. equipped…operated and conducted as to provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety to the persons employed or frequenting such places.”  Finally, section 240(1) states that owners, contractors and managers are liable for gravity-related accidents that happen at the building.  Not preparing for workplace accidents and running afoul of these statutes could mean millions of dollars in liability.

What can your building do to protect itself?

Know who you are working with.  Be sure that all contractors you deal with are properly licensed, insured, and experienced in each specific area of work.  Be sure to ask for copies of their primary liability and umbrella insurance policies.  If your contractor uses subcontractors (an extremely common occurrence), have your contractor review their vetting process for subs and verify that each subcontractor is properly insured.  Additionally, do a little due diligence of your own and check to see if each contractor/subcontractor has a history with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) as well as a history of litigation.

Read the fine print.  As with anything, the building owner’s contract with each general contractor or subcontractor should be in writing.  The contract should include an indemnification clause – the contractor/subcontractor should agree to indemnify and hold harmless the building owners and managing agents from any liability and damages stemming from the contractors’ negligence – and an insurance procurement clause.  They should also confirm that any agreements they enter into ensure their responsibility for workplace safety.  To the extent possible, your contractor/subcontractor should also add the building owners and managing agents as additional insureds to their liability insurance policies, which should already be at least $1 million for a primary commercial general liability policy and $5 million for an umbrella policy.

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