SUPENSKY v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-006-102, Claim No. 96861
JAMES D. SUPENSKY
Footnote (claimant name)
STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name)
EDGAR C. NeMOYER
LIPSITZ, GREEN, FAHRINGER, ROLL, SALISBURY
& CAMBRIA, LLPBy: Laraine Kelley, Esq.
ELIOT SPITZER, ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: RUPP, BAASE & PFALZGRAF, LLCBy: R. Anthony Rupp, III, Esq.
May 7, 2002
See also (multicaptioned
This claim occurred on June 19, 1996, while claimant, who was employed by M.
Falgiano Construction, was working on a bridge rehabilitation project on Hyde
Park Boulevard, Niagara Falls, New York. The construction site was owned by the
defendant. The Hyde Park Boulevard bridge carries a four lane highway over a
set of railroad tracks. The rehabilitation project involved resurfacing the
roadway, installing new light posts, and removing and replacing various sections
of the bridge. M. Falgiano Construction had a staging area and job trailer at
the northwest corner of the bridge and below it. In order to access the bridge
from this staging area, claimant and co-workers were required to walk up a steep
earth ramp which led to the bridge. This embankment rose approximately 40 feet
from beneath the bridge to the bridge surface. Because of the continued use of
this ramp, the grass on it became worn away, and it became a dirt ramp. On June
19, 1996, this ramp was wet and somewhat muddy from rain the previous days. As
claimant was descending the ramp the afternoon of June 19, 1996, he slipped on
the wet, muddy surface, his feet went out from under him, and claimant fell to
the ground on his back. As a result of this fall, claimant sustained injuries.
Claimant maintains the defendant, as owner of the property, was negligent
because it failed to provide him with reasonable and adequate protection and
safety in the workplace, in violation of Labor Law § 241(6).
Claimant had been a union carpenter since 1982. He testified he was working
as a union carpenter on June 19, 1996 for his employer,
M. Falgiano Construction, on a project to rebuild a bridge, which passed over
railroad tracks on Hyde Park Boulevard, Niagara Falls New York. According to
claimant, he started working on this job in April 1996. Claimant stated his
employer put a construction trailer on the project at the base of the embankment
leading to the bridge surface above it. This area was the staging area where
employees would gather on a daily basis to go back and forth to the work site
above them. Claimant testified that in order to get from the staging area to
the work site on the bridge, it was necessary to walk up and down a steep earth
ramp. This was the means of access to the work site, which had been provided by
M. Falgiano Construction for its employees. According to claimant, this was the
only way to reach the work site at bridge level without leaving the job site.
He stated this was the most direct route to the job site. Claimant testified
everyone associated with this job used this embankment or ramp to get to bridge
level and back to the staging area. Claimant estimated the length of the earth
pathway from the staging area to bridge level was about 40 feet. He maintained
this ramp initially started out as a grass pathway, but through use became dirt,
which would become muddy and slippery when wet. The testimony indicated this
pathway was at a 30 to 45 degree angle. Exhibits 2 through 9 are photographs of
the pathway from the staging area to the bridge surface. The wooden planking on
the pathway in the photographs was not present on the date of the accident.
These photographs depict a steep vertical pathway up the side of a hill, from
the staging area to the bridge surface. The court would estimate the angle of
the pathway to be at least 35 to 40 degrees or a grade of 35 to 40 percent.
Claimant testified he was working on the north side of the bridge during the
morning of June 19, 1996, building forms where concrete had been removed.
According to claimant, it had rained the day before his accident, which caused
the earth ramp to the job site to be slippery from the mud surface, and the
continued use by workers. Claimant stated this accident occurred after lunch,
sometime between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. According to claimant, he was using
the earth ramp for the fourth time that day, when this accident occurred.
Claimant stated he was walking from bridge level to the staging area to obtain a
tool at the construction trailer. He testified that as he was descending the
embankment, his feet went out from under him, and he fell to the ground on his
back. Claimant stated this occurred when he was about halfway down the ramp,
where it became steeper. According to claimant, he immediately reported the
accident to his supervisor.
In June, 1996 Daniel H. Benjamin was a Civil Engineer I employed by the New
York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT). Mr. Benjamin testified he was
the engineer in charge for the NYSDOT for the Hyde Park bridge project.
According to Mr. Benjamin, he was on the job site daily, in the project office,
which was approximately one block south of the bridge. He stated that for
workers to get from the staging area to the construction site on the bridge,
they would be required to walk up the earth embankment or ramp, which he
estimated to be at a 30 to 45 degree angle. He said there was no other direct
route to the construction site.
Mr. Benjamin was required to keep a daily diary on the job site (Exhibit 15).
His diary for June 17, 1996 indicated the morning was overcast, with rain in the
afternoon. The diary further reflected it rained all day on June 18, 1996. On
the day of the accident, June 19, 1996, Mr. Benjamin recorded in his diary that
there was rain in the morning, and the afternoon was overcast. Mr. Benjamin
believed the use of this earth ramp to access the job site and staging area
would pose a risk of falling for workers using it. He maintained this risk
would have been increased by the weather conditions from June 17, 1996 through
June 19, 1996.
Charles Palisano has been a construction safety engineer since 1968. From
1968 through 1975, Mr. Palisano was employed by the State of New York as a
construction safety inspector for construction work in Niagara County.
Throughout the years, he has been employed with different firms as a
construction safety engineer or officer, and is currently employed in that
capacity for the job corps in Medina, New York. According to Palisano, he has a
bachelor's degree in construction safety technology, which was obtained through
correspondence courses. He testified he was familiar with the Industrial Code
of New York, and more particularly 12 NYCRR § 23 and its subsections. Mr.
Palisano testified that prior to his testimony, he made two onsite inspections
at the Hyde Park bridge project. It was Mr. Palisano's opinion, that under the
circumstances presented by this accident, the embankment or ramp for access to
and from the job site was unsafe. He believed workers using it could easily
Section 241(6) of the Labor Law imposes a non-delegable duty upon owners and
contractors to provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety to
construction workers. Comes v New York State Electric and Gas
82 NY2d 876. This Labor Law section reads as follows:
All areas in which construction, excavation or demolition work is being
performed shall be so constructed, shored, equipped, guarded, arranged, operated
and conducted as to provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety to the
persons employed therein or lawfully frequenting such places. The commissioner
may make rules to carry into effect the provisions of this subdivision, and the
owners and contractors and their agents for such work, except owners of one and
two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work,
shall comply therewith.
However, in order to establish a cause of action
under this section, claimant must allege and prove the defendant violated a rule
or regulation of the New York Industrial Code, which sets forth a specific
standard of conduct, as opposed to a general reiteration of common law
principles. Ross v Curtis-Palmer Hydro-Electric Company
494. Claimant relies on Industrial Code 12 NYCRR § 23-1.7(d) and 12 NYCRR
§ 23-1.7(f) to establish his claim under Labor Law § 241(6). Both of
these sections present a specific standard, and therefore, if applicable, could
establish a claim pursuant to Labor Law § 241(6). Gielow v Rosa Coplon
251 AD2d 970; Adams v Glass Fab, Inc.
, 212 AD2d
Looking first at 12 NYCRR § 23-1.7(f), this Industrial Code regulation
provides as follows:
Vertical passage. Stairways, ramps or runways shall be provided as
the means of access to working levels above or below ground except where the
nature or the progress of the work prevents their installation in which case
ladders or other safe means of access shall be provided.
regulation must be read in pari materia with Industrial Code regulation
12 NYCRR § 23-1.23, "Earth ramps and runways." Therefore, 12 NYCRR §
23-1.23 is also necessarily before the court for consideration. This industrial
regulation, in relevant parts, provides as follows:
(a) Construction. Earth ramps and runways shall be constructed
of suitable soil, gravel, stone or similar embankment material. Such material
shall be placed in layers not exceeding three feet in depth and each such layer
shall be properly compacted except where an earth ramp or runway consists of
undisturbed material. Earth ramp and runway surfaces shall be maintained free
from potholes, soft spots or excessive unevenness.
(b) Slope. Earth ramps and runways shall have maximum slopes of
one in four (equivalent to 25 percent maximum grades).
(d) Earth ramps and runways used by persons.
Earth ramps and
runways used by persons with or without wheelbarrows, power buggies, hand carts
or hand trucks shall be at least 48 inches in width. Such ramps and runways
more than four feet above the adjacent ground, grade or equivalent level shall
be provided with safety railings constructed and installed in compliance with
this Part (rule). The total rise of any continuous ramp or runway used by
persons with or without wheelbarrows, power buggies, hand carts or hand trucks
shall not exceed 12 feet unless such rise is broken by a horizontal section at
least four feet in length every 50 feet.
Defendant argues that the means of access provided by it for the workers on
the Hyde Park bridge rehabilitation was a ramp within the meaning of 12 NYCRR
§ 23-1.7. Defendant further maintains that 12 NYCRR § 23-1.23 applies
and permits it to provide a ramp of earthen material for its workers. According
to defendant, this was all that was required of it, and this is what was
provided for the workers, an earthen ramp for workers to travel back and forth
from the staging area to the job site on the Hyde Park bridge above them.
Consequently, defendant maintains it was in compliance with the relevant
regulations of the Industrial Code, and should not be found in violation of
Labor Law § 241(6).
The court is in agreement with defendant only to the extent that it finds the
means of access to and from the job site for the workers at the Hyde Park bridge
rehabilitation project was a ramp, which could have been made from earthen
materials. As such, it came within the requirements of 12 NYCRR §
23-1.7(f) and § 23-1.23(a), (b), (d). The fallacy of defendant's argument
is that it ignores the requirements set forth in 12 NYCRR § 23-1.23 for
Subsection "b" of 12 NYCRR § 23-1.23 requires that the maximum slope
permitted for an earthen ramp is one in four or equivelant to a 25 percent
maximum grade. The ramp which claimant was using exceeded a 25 percent grade.
The credible testimony before the court places the grade of the ramp at the Hyde
Park bridge project at anywhere from 30 to 45 percent. Exhibits 2 through 9
appear to the court to show a ramp, which far exceeds a 25 percent grade.
Furthermore, subsection"d" of 12 NYCRR § 23-1.23 provides that such a ramp,
utilized by claimant and his fellow co-workers, which is more than four feet
above the adjacent ground, grade or equivalent level, must be provided with
safety railings, constructed and installed in compliance with other regulations
in the Industrial Code. The proof before the court indicated the ramp at the
Hyde Park bridge project rose 40 feet above the adjacent ground level, and
Exhibits 2 through 9 confirm this. Once again, the ramp provided for claimant
at the Hyde Park bridge construction project failed to comply with 12 NYCRR
§ 23-1.23(d), in that it had no safety railings. Finally, subsection "d"
provides that such a continuous ramp, as used by claimant and his co-workers
"shall not exceed 12 feet unless such rise is broken by a horizontal section at
least four feet in length every 50 feet." The ramp here easily exceeded a 12
foot rise, and was not broken by a horizontal section.
In light of the foregoing, the court finds that, while defendant did provide
workers at the Hyde Park bridge rehabilitation project with an earthen ramp as a
means of access to a working level above the ground, it violated 12 NYCRR §
23-1.7(f) and § 23-1.23 in failing to adhere to the requirements for
earthen ramps. The court further finds that this failure on the part of the
defendant was the proximate cause of claimant's accident, and therefore a
violation of defendant's non-delegable duty under Labor Law § 241(6).
Also, inherent in 12 NYCRR § 23-1.7(f), is the requirement that defendant
provide workers with a safe means of access to working levels above the ground.
Whether the defendant provided a safe ramp for claimant and his co-workers to
use, is therefore a triable issue of fact to be determined by the court.
Sponholz v Benderson Property Development, Inc
., 273 AD2d 791. Based
upon all of the proof before the court, it appears the ramp provided by the
defendant at the Hyde Park bridge project was unsafe. The ramp was a steep
vertical incline, up and down the side of the hill. In essence, it was nothing
more than a dirt pathway. It was used on a daily basis by several workers going
back and forth from the staging area to the elevated job site. As such, what
started out as a grass earthen ramp, became a dirt ramp. It was exposed to the
elements, and when the ramp became wet from rain or other moisture, it became
muddy and slippery. In the court's view, this earth ramp, without any
protective devices, was unsafe even when it was dry. But, add moisture and mud
to the ramp, and it became a dangerous means of access to an elevated working
area. This unsafe condition was also a proximate cause of claimant's accident
on June 19, 1996.
Although the condition of the ramp on June 19, 1996 was open and obvious to
anyone using it, the court does not attribute any comparative negligence to the
claimant. This ramp was the most direct and only means of accessing the job
site within the construction area for claimant and his co-workers. To access
the job site by any other means would have required the workers to leave the job
site. The court believes claimant and his co-workers had no other reasonable
alternative but to use this ramp, which was unsafe and in violation of Labor Law
§ 241(6), and 12 NYCRR § 23-1.7 (f) and § 23-1.23.
Since liability has been determined based upon the foregoing violations, it is
not necessary for the court to reach the issue of the application of 12 NYCRR
§ 23-1.7(d) to this accident.
Based upon the foregoing, the court finds the defendant negligent and fully
responsible for the injuries sustained by claimant on June 19, 1996, when he
fell as previously described herein. Trial on damages will be held as soon as
LET INTERLOCUTORY JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.
May 7, 2002
HON. EDGAR C. NEMOYER
Judge of the Court of Claims