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Russo & Toner Obtains Defense Verdict On Liability In Labor Law 240 Case

Florina Altshiler, Esq., of Russo & Toner, LLP, obtained a defense verdict on liability after a jury trial in Erie County Supreme Court. Plaintiff, David Bonczar, a then 46-year-old male fire alarm technician claimed serious injuries following a fall from an A-frame ladder while installing a fire detection system at an AMC theater during a major renovation project. Plaintiff alleged that the ladder wobbled and shifted as he descended causing him to fall to the floor below.

The trial court initially granted summary judgment on liability in plaintiff’s favor. The Fourth Department reversed (Bonczar v. America Multi-Cinema, Inc., 158 AD3d 1114, 70 NYS3d 305 (4th Dept. 2018), on a brief submitted and argued by Josh Kardisch, Esq., allowing the case to proceed to trial on both liability and damages.

At trial, over defendant’s objection, Judge Glownia read jury instructions that substantially diverged from the pattern, including that the statute imposes liability whether or not defendant was at fault and whether or not he was the sole proximate cause of his fall. The judge also instructed the jury that it was “undisputed” that the ladder shifted or wobbled for no apparent reason and that plaintiff is not required to prove that there was a physical defect in the ladder.

After a two-week trial with two experts and several fact witnesses, Ms. Altshiler was able to convince the jury that the ladder from which plaintiff fell provided proper protection and did not violate section 240 (1) of the NY Labor Law and that the plaintiff’s conduct was the sole proximate cause of the accident. Accordingly, the jury rendered a unanimous verdict of no liability in favor of the defendant.

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