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Suspension Cable Instead of a Ladder

 Break in Suspension Cable Establishes Employer's Labor Law Liability:



A worker who fell when a suspension cable supporting a scaffold for a painting project broke was entitled to summary judgment on his claim for a violation of Labor Law Section 240(1).


Case: Portes v. New York State Thruway Authority, No. 516749, 12/05/2013, published.


Facts: Heitor Portes suffered injuries when a suspension cable for a New York State Thruway Authority bridge broke while he was walking on it. At the time Portes was employed on a painting project for the bridge.


The suspension cable that broke was one of approximately 28 such cables that had been positioned under the bridge and provided support for scaffolds attached to the cables.


Portes said workers routinely accessed the scaffold by walking on a suspension cable while holding a bridge beam above them. He further stated that he had attached his lanyard to the cable upon which he was walking because it was the only available cable in that there were no safety cables close enough to use.


Procedural History: Portes sued the Thruway Authority for negligence as well as violations of Labor Law Sections 200, 240(1) and 241(6).


He moved for summary judgment with respect to liability under Section 240(1). The authority opposed the motion and moved for summary judgment dismissing the negligence, Section 200 and Section 241(6) causes of action.


Court of Claims Judge Christopher J. McCarthy denied both parties' motions, and Portes appealed.


Analysis: The Appellate Division's 3rd Department reasoned that the purpose of the suspension cables at the work site was to support workers and materials at the elevated height where the painting work necessarily occurred.


While the authority produced evidence that, contrary to Portes' assertion, a separate safety cable was available that he should have used, the court said Portes' failure to use the safety cable was not what caused him to fall, so it didn't matter.


Similarly, the assertion that ladders were available and workers had been instructed to use them did not raise a triable issue under the circumstances of this claim, the court said, as Portes wasn't hurt because he lost his balance and fell off the cable while using it instead of the safer way to access the scaffold via a ladder.


As this was a case where a device intended to support the worker at an elevated height clearly failed, and that failure was the proximate cause of Portes' injury, the court said he was entitled to summary judgment on the question of liability under Section 240(1).


Disposition: Reversed in part.


To read the decision, click here.

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