New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MONTAYNE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-015-026, Claim No. None, Motion No. M-69822


Synopsis


Court granted late claim relief to movant injured by 1000 pound granite being hoisted into place when block slipped falling onto worker below (Labor Law § 240 (1). Relief as to claim asserting Labor Law § § 241(6) and 240 (sic) denied

Case Information

UID:
2005-015-026
Claimant(s):
TIMOTHY MONTANYE
Claimant short name:
MONTAYNE
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-69822
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney:
Abdella Law OfficesBy: Robert Abdella, Esquire
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Maynard, O'Connor, Smith & Catalinotto, LLPMichael T. Snyder, Esquire appearing
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 23, 2005
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

.
Decision

Movant's application for late claim relief pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 10 (6) is granted to the extent that it seeks permission to serve and file a claim alleging a violation of Labor Law § 240(1) and denied as to that portion which alleges a violation of Labor Law § 241 (6), Labor Law § 240[1] and common law negligence. The proposed claim alleges that movant sustained personal injuries on June 11, 2004 while working as a laborer on a sidewalk demolition/re-construction project in the Village of Hoosick Falls, New York. Specifically, movant alleges that on the date of his accident he was helping to guide a 1,000 lb granite block into an excavated trench when it fell from a motorized hoisting device striking him and causing injury to his spine. At the time movant was employed by A & K Slip Forming which purportedly had contracted with the State of New York to remove and replace sidewalks as part of a project to refurbish village streets and appurtenances including water lines and electrical connections.

The defendant opposed the motion.

Subdivision 6 of section 10 of the Court of Claims Act permits this Court, if the applicable Statute of Limitations set forth in article 2 of the CPLR has not expired, to allow the filing of a late claim upon consideration of the following factors: "whether the delay in filing the claim was excusable; whether the state had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim; whether the state had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim; whether the claim appears to be meritorious; whether 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 whether the claimant has any other available remedy".

The motion filed on February 25, 2005 is timely in that a claim for personal injuries negligently caused or for which liability is imposed by statute is governed by the three year Statute of Limitations set forth, respectively, in CPLR § 214 (5) and § 214 (2).

Turning to the statutory factors, this Court has broad discretion in deciding a motion to permit the late filing of a claim (Ledet v State of New York, 207 AD2d 965), and the statutory factors are not exhaustive or one factor controlling (Matter of Gavigan v State of New York, 176 AD2d 1117). The most important factor is whether the potential claim has merit, as it would be a futile exercise to permit litigation of a clearly baseless lawsuit (Savino v State of New York, 199 AD2d 254).

The excuses offered for the failure to timely commence the claim are movant's unfamiliarity with the filing and service requirements of the Court of Claims Act and his preoccupation with obtaining approval from workers' compensation for certain surgical expenses. It is settled that ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse (Matter of E.K. v State of New York, 235 AD2d 540; Sevillia v State of New York, 91 AD2d 792). Movant's alleged preoccupation with workers' compensation benefits and his severe pain, while understandable distractions, are not reasonable excuses for the failure to timely file a claim, especially as presented by movant and his counsel on this motion. Under the circumstances described in the late claim application the Court finds the excuses offered to be unreasonable (Atterbury v State of New York, 26 Misc 2d 422) and this factor weighs against granting movant's application.

The intertwined issues of notice, opportunity to investigate and prejudice will be considered together. In his supporting affidavit movant alleges upon information and belief, the source of which is not specified, that defendant received notification of the accident either from movant's employer or from Rifenburg Construction, another contractor on the work site. While such allegations are generally insufficient to demonstrate that the State was provided timely notice of an accident and an opportunity to investigate, the State's opposition to the motion does not directly refute the allegation that it received notice of movant's accident and does not allege facts tending to establish any prejudice resulting from movant's delay. As a result the Court concludes that the factors of notice, opportunity to investigate and prejudice weigh in favor of granting the application.

As to the issue of merit, the proposed claim presents a potentially viable cause of action under Labor Law § 240 (1). In order to establish a meritorious claim it is movant's burden to show that the proposed claim is not patently groundless, frivolous or legally defective and there is reasonable cause to believe that a valid claim exists (see, Rosenhack v State of New York, 112 Misc 2d 967; Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Auth., 92 Misc 2d 1). Here the alleged failure of the hoist (one of the devices enumerated in Labor Law § 240 [1]) which caused the granite block to fall from an elevated height facially supports a Labor Law § 240 (1) cause of action. As a result, the Court finds that in this regard the claim appears to be meritorious.

A contrary conclusion, however, is reached relative to movant's proposed cause of action under Labor Law § 241 (6). The proposed claim fails to "specify any provisions of the Industrial Code allegedly violated by the State or to set forth sufficient facts to determine the manner in which the accident occurred" for purposes of determining the potential merit of movant's Labor Law § 241 (6) cause of action (Scarver v State of New York , 233 AD2d 858). Movant's conclusory assertion of a violation of Labor Law § 241 (6), without more, is insufficient to establish that the claim is, in this respect, meritorious.

Similarly, a cause of action for common law negligence at a construction site requires some showing that the defendant exercised supervisory control over the operation or manner of the work being performed (Comes v New York State Elec. & Gas Corp., 82 NY2d 876; Medinosky v State of New York, Ct Cl [Claim No. None, Motion No. M-66291, UID # 2003-019-535] Lebous, J., unreported).[2] No such showing has been made on this application. Movant's motion for late claim relief is, therefore, denied to the extent that the proposed claim seeks to assert causes of action under Labor Law § 241 (6) and/or common law negligence.

As to the final factor, it appears that movant has another remedy available under the Workers' Compensation law.

Upon consideration of all the relevant statutory factors, the Court finds that the movant has set forth sufficient factual allegations to demonstrate the apparent merit of a claim for damage under section 240 (1) of the Labor Law. Movant is hereby permitted to file a verified claim based solely on Labor Law § 240 (1) with the Chief Clerk of the Court and to serve a copy thereof upon the Attorney General either personally or by certified mail, return receipt requested, as provided in Court of Claims Act § 11 (a) (i) within 30 days of service of a copy of this decision and order.

June 23, 2005
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims


The Court considered the following papers:
  1. Notice of motion dated February 18, 2005;
  2. Affidavit of Timothy Montanye sworn to February 22, 2005;
  3. Affidavit of Robert Abdella, sworn to February 21, 2005 with exhibit;
  4. Affidavit of Michael T. Snyder sworn to April 12, 2005.

[1]The proposed claim seeks to predicate liability on a violation of Labor Law § 240. That section, however, contains no general liability provision but is composed of separately numbered subsections. To the extent movant seeks late claim relief to assert a cause of action for defendant's violation of Labor Law § 240 it is denied except as noted herein.
[2]Unreported decisions from the Court of Claims are available via the internet at