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Surprise! Employer Has No Duty

Employer Had no Duty to Indemnify City against Worker's Suit:

A New York employer was not obligated to indemnify the municipality which hired it for a project that resulted in injury to one of its workers, an appellate panel ruled.

Case: Meabon v. Town of Poland, No. 634 CA 12-01577, 07/19/2013, published.

Facts: Grant Meabon worked for Cadillac Carpentry. He slipped and fell from the roof of a pole barn that Cadillac was building for the Town of Poland.

Meabon sued the town for violations of the Labor Law and common-law negligence, and the town filed a third-party complaint seeking indemnification from Cadillac.

Procedural History: Chautauqua County Supreme Court Justice James H. Dillon ruled that Cadillac was obligated to indemnify the town as a matter of law.

Analysis: The Appellate Division's 4th Department said this was error.

The court explained that New York law prohibits a third-party action against an employer unless the employer's employee sustained a "grave injury," or there is a written contract, entered into prior to the accident, by which the employer had expressly agreed to indemnify the third-party plaintiff.

Since the city conceded that Meabon did not suffer a "grave injury," it was only entitled to indemnification if it could demonstrate the existence of a written contract with Cadillac, the court said.

The court noted that there was a contract between Cadillac and the town, but it was executed nearly a week after Meabon's accident.

While the contract was not dated, the court reasoned that its content made it clear that the contract took effect on the date which the parties signed it, which meant that the parties did not intend that the contract be applied retroactively.

Disposition: Reversed.

To read the decision, click here.

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