New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

McCANN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-028-069, Claim No. NONE, Motion No. M-65810


Synopsis


Movant's application for permission to late file a Claim is granted.

Movant was not required to submit an expert affidavit to establish merit of proposed Labor Law claims involving the movement of steel beams.

Case Information

UID:
2002-028-069
Claimant(s):
FLOYD McCANN and MARGARET A. McCANN
Claimant short name:
McCANN
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
NONE
Motion number(s):
M-65810
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
RICHARD E. SISE
Claimant's attorney:
MICHAELS & SMOLAK, P.C.BY: Jan Smolak, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: Saul Aronson, Esq. Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 20, 2002
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

The following papers were read on Claimant's application pursuant to Court of Claims Act §10(6) for permission to late file a Claim:

  1. Notice of Motion and Supporting Affidavit of Jan M. Smolak, Esq. (Smolak Affidavit) with annexed Exhibits A-C; and Supporting Affidavit of Floyd McCann (McCann Affidavit), filed September 18, 2002;
  1. Affirmation in Opposition of Assistant Attorney General Saul Aronson filed September 30, 2002, (Aronson Affirmation);
  2. Movant's Reply Memorandum of Law with annexed Exhibit A.
Floyd McCann (Movant) and his wife, derivatively, seek the Court's permission to late file a claim against the Defendant alleging common-law negligence and violations of Labor Law §§ 200, 240 (1) and § 241 (6). Movant, an employee of a subcontractor, alleges the accident occurred on March 10, 2000 at a construction site in Albany County on Route 85, on a project which involved the replacement of a bridge. At the time of the accident, steel beams were being loaded onto a flatbed truck. As a beam was released onto the flatbed truck, Movant alleges the steel beam fell to the ground, bounced and then struck him, injuring his leg.[1] The Defendant opposes the motion on each of the statutory factors.

As a threshold issue, the Court must determine whether Movant's application for permission to late file his claim was timely filed within the relevant statute of limitations provided by Article 2 of the CPLR. The failure to file such application within the proscribed time period "creates a jurisdictional defect and the court is without discretionary power to grant nunc pro tunc relief" (Byrne v State of New York, 104 AD2d 782, 783, lv denied 64 NY2d 607 [emphasis omitted]). The causes of action presented herein are governed by the three year statute of limitations set forth in CPLR 214. As such, the instant application filed and served on September 18, 2002 (see, CPLR 2211) is timely made.

It is well-settled that the factors a Court must consider in determining a properly framed CCA 10 (6) motion are whether 1) the delay in filing the claim was excusable, 2) the State had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim, 3) the State had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim, 4) the claim appears to be meritorious, 5) the failure to file or serve upon the attorney general a timely claim or to serve upon the attorney general a notice of intention resulted in substantial prejudice to the State, and 6) there is any other available remedy (see, Matter of Gavigan v State of New York, 176 AD2d 1117, 1118; Bay Terrace Coop. Section IV v New York State Employees' Retirement System, Policemen's & Firemen's Retirement Sys., 55 NY2d 979, 981).

Movant has conceded that there is no reasonable excuse for the delay in filing the claim as it is well settled that ignorance of the law, the excuse offered by Movant (McCann Affidavit ¶ 10) is not an acceptable excuse (Innis v State of New York, 92 AD2d 606, affd 60 NY2d 654).

Also unexplained is the delay between consultation with counsel and the making of this application. Accordingly, this factor weighs against Movant's application.

The factors of notice, opportunity to investigate and prejudice can be viewed together. Defendant asserts that "other than self-serving statements" (Aronson Affirmation ¶ 7) movant has failed to establish "adequate, timely or proper notice" to the Defendant (Id.). Notably, defense counsel's affirmation is silent with respect to the completed New York State Department of Transportation, Construction Division "Initial Notification of Work Zone Accident - Form A" which is appended to Movant's application (Smolak Affidavit, Exhibit B). This form, dated the day after the accident, contains many of the factual particulars necessary to investigate this accident and was completed by a New York State employee in charge of the construction site (Smolak Affidavit ¶ 8; see, Carmen v State of New York, 49 AD2d 965, 966 [accident report, Workers' Compensation records gave State abundant notice]). On this record, the Court cannot conclude that Defendant lacked notice of the essential facts or that Defendant has been precluded from a meaningful opportunity to investigate the allegations. Other than by reference to the passage of time, Defendant has not established that it is substantially prejudiced. The Court finds these factors weigh in favor of the instant application.

The most decisive component in the algorithm in determining a motion under Court of Claims Act § 10 (6) is whether the proposed claim appears to be meritorious, since it would be futile to permit a meritless claim to proceed. (Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Auth., 92 Misc 2d 1, 10). Claimant must establish the proposed claim is not patently groundless, frivolous, or legally defective and that there is reasonable cause to believe that a valid claim exists. (Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Auth., supra, at 11). Claimant need not establish a prima facie case at this point, but rather the appearance of merit (see e.g., Jackson v State of New York, Claim No. NONE, M-64481, Midey, J., February 19, 2002) a standard which has been described as a "low threshold" (Bernard v State of New York, Ct Cl, Bell, J., August 8, 2000, UID#2000-007-043, Motion No. M-61948 ). Generally, in reviewing the allegations in the proposed claim any "[f]acts stated in a motion for leave to file a late claim against the State are deemed true for purpose of motion, when not denied or contradicted in opposing affidavits [citations omitted]." (Sessa v State of New York, 88 Misc 2d 454, 458, affd 63 AD2d 334, affd 47 NY2d 976). Defendant raises a number of objections to the merit of the proposed claim.

This Court is of the view, contrary to Defendant's assertion (Aronson Affirmation, ¶ 9), that the proposed claim, for purposes of this motion, does not require an expert affidavit to establish the appearance of merit. Both Movant's detailed affidavit and common knowledge support the conclusion that the presence of safety devices, such as a tag line (see, O'Keefe v State of New York, Ct Cl, Sise, J., UID #2002-028-013, Claim No. 98412, Motion Nos. M-64073, CM-64195), may have prevented the steel beam from falling off the flatbed truck and striking Movant as it was lowered onto the truck.

Similarly unavailing is Defendant's objection to the appearance of merit based upon Movant's failure to establish the Defendant owned the worksite (Aronson Affirmation, ¶ 7). Movant has satisfied its initial burden by alleging the State was the owner of the bridge on Route 85 (see, Smolak Affidavit, Exhibit A, Proposed Claim, ¶ 3; see also ¶¶ 7 and 11). While Defendant questions this statement (Aronson Affirmation ¶ 7), Defendant does not deny ownership nor contradict the assertion (see, Sessa, supra), and as such the Court accepts Movant's allegation as to those proposed causes of action which require ownership as an element.

Labor Law Section 240(1) imposes upon contractors and owners, except owners of one and two-family dwellings, involved in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure the duty to furnish or erect scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices to be constructed, placed and operated to give proper protection to a person so employed. The statute imposes absolute liability for injuries sustained as the result of an elevation-related hazard incurred while engaged in one of the described activities, where proper safety devices were not provided, regardless of whether or not the owner exercised supervisory control. (Ross v Curtis-Palmer Hydro Elec. Co., 81 NY2d 494, 499-501).

Defendant denies the merit of Movant's Labor Law § 240(1) cause of action, relying on Klever [sic] v State of New York (266 AD2d 345)[2] for the proposition that "unloading a truck is not an elevation-related risk" (Aronson Affirmation, ¶ 8). In the first instance, Jacome v State of New York (266 AD2d 345) is readily distinguished as to the appearance of merit in that unlike the steel in Jacome, which simply slid on the truck bed, the steel in the instant proceeding is alleged to have fallen off the truck before striking and injuring Movant. As such, Movant correctly characterizes this claim as being a "falling object" claim (Smolak Affidavit, ¶ 10). Moreover, this characterization is consistent with the Court of Appeals decision in Narducci v Manhasset Bay Assoc. (96 NY2d 259), decided after Jacome, which distinguished between "falling objects" and "falling workers" There, the Court stated
the fact that an injured plaintiff may have been working at an elevation when the object fell is of no moment in a "falling object" case, because a different type of hazard is involved. Working at an elevation does not increase the risk of being hit by an improperly hoisted load of materials from above. The hazard posed by working at an elevation is that, in the absence of adequate safety devices (e.g., scaffolds, ladders), a worker might be injured in a fall. By contrast, falling objects are associated with the failure to use a different type of safety device (e.g., ropes, pulleys, irons) also enumerated in the statute

( Id. at 268). Therefore, for Labor Law § 240 (1) to apply, it is not enough for a claimant to show that an object fell causing injury to a worker but rather that "the object fell, while being hoisted or secured, because of the absence or inadequacy of a safety device of the kind enumerated in the statute" (Id.). Movant's affidavit, for purposes of this motion, establishes that an enumerated safety device was necessary and expected (Narducci v Manhasset Bay Assoc., supra at 268). Whether that in fact remains the case (see, e.g., Isabell v U.W. Marx, Inc., __ AD2d ___, 2002 WL 31521140, 2002 Lexis 10744, [Third Dept., November 14, 2002]), is a question to be decided another day. Accordingly, for purposes of this motion, Movant has established the appearance of merit of the allegations alleging a violation of Labor Law § 240(1).

Labor Law § 241(6) imposes upon contractors and owners, regardless of supervisory control, the duty to provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety to workers performing construction, excavation or demolition duties. In order to establish a proper claim under this section, the claimant must cite specific regulations setting forth specific safety standards to be complied with, as opposed to those regulations which merely restate general safety standards (Ross v Curtis-Palmer Hydro-Electric Co., 81 NY2d 494, at 505). Here, Movant has alleged violations of Industrial Code sections 12 NYCRR 23-2.3, 23-2.3 (c) and 23-8.1(e)(5). Industrial Code section 12 NYCRR 23-2.3 (c), which requires the use of "tag lines ... to prevent uncontrolled movement of [steel] panels or [structural steel] members" is both a specific regulation (see, O'Keefe v State of New York, supra) and facially applicable to the facts alleged. Accordingly, Movant has established the appearance of merit of his Labor Law § 241(6) cause of action.[3]

Labor Law § 200 is a codification of the common law duty of a landowner to provide and maintain a safe place to work. Generally, in order to establish liability under this section, proof is required that the landowner exercised supervisory control over the work which caused the injury (Comes v New York State Electric and Gas Corporation, 82 NY2d 876; Rapp v Zandri Constr. Corp., 165 AD2d 639). Although Movant has made the barest of allegations in his claim that the State exercised supervision or control over the work involved, for purposes of this motion those allegations alleging a violation of Labor Law § 200 and common law negligence do establish the appearance of merit for this cause of action.

Inasmuch as the Court has found an appearance of merit to Movant's direct causes of action, it necessarily follows, that the derivative claim on behalf of Movant's spouse, likewise has the appearance of merit.

Accordingly, the Court is persuaded that Movant has proposed meritorious claims for violation of the Labor Law §§ 200, 240, 241, as well as common law negligence, and as such, this factor weighs in favor of the application.

Turning to the final factor of another available remedy, it appears that Movant has pursued his Workers' Compensation remedy (see, Smolak Affidavit, Exhibit B [C-2 form]) which causes that factor to weigh against Movant (see, Biggs v State of New York, New York State Thruway Authority, and New York State Canal Corporation, a Subsidiary Corporation of the New York State Thruway Authority, Ct Cl, Fitzpatrick, J., UID #2001-018-088, Claim No. NONE, Motion No. M-62319).

Taking into account the six statutorily prescribed factors, the Court finds them to weigh in favor of granting Movant's motion for permission to file a late claim.

Accordingly, Movant's application for permission to late file a claim is GRANTED and Movant is directed to file and serve a claim identical to the proposed claim, annexed as Exhibit A to the moving papers, and to do so in conformity with the requirements of Court of Claims Act §§ 10 and 11 within thirty (30) days of the date this Decision and Order is filed.


December 20, 2002
Albany, New York

HON. RICHARD E. SISE
Judge of the Court of Claims



[1] Movant's affidavit indicates medical records were attached as an exhibit, but were apparently omitted. Movant identifies the injury as a compound fracture (McCann Affidavit, ¶ 5).
[2] This case is properly cited as Jacome v State of New York, 266 AD2d 345. Klever is the Claimant's first name.
[3] It is not necessary for the limited purposes of this motion to address the other regulations Movant contends were violated (see, Ortlieb v State of New York, Ct Cl, Bell, J., UID#2001-007-143, Claim No. NONE, Motion No. M-64342).