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Can I Sue if an Accident is my Fault?
As long as you were not completely and totally responsible for an accident, you may have a viable claim for your injuries. Whether you were in a car wreck, slipped and fell on a sidewalk, or were involved in a construction accident, you may still be eligible for significant compensation. In construction cases, the Labor Law places the burden on building owners and general contractors to create a safe work environment for construction workers regardless of whether the worker is partially at fault. For car accidents and premises cases, New York has a pure comparative negligence rule allowing victims to receive compensation even when partly at fault.
Labor Law (§) 240 (1) is a very favorable law that protects construction workers from effects of gravity-related hazards. The law provides:
“All contractors and owners and their agents…in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning, or pointing of a building or structure shall furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection to a person so employed.”
Labor Law §240(1) mandates that owners and general contractors be held strictly liable for a failure to provide workers with proper safety equipment to protect workers from falling or protect workers from falling objects. Therefore, even if you contributed to the events leading up to injury, if there was a violation of Labor Law §240(1), you will be entitled to recover the full value of your monetary damages, even if you were partially or even largely at fault. The defense must show you were the “sole proximate cause” of their own injuries in order to avoid strict liability under this statute.
For example, in the case Rapalo v. MJRB Kings Highway Realty, LLC. a carpenter was building a scaffold when one of the planks he was standing on collapsed, causing him to fall nearly 30 feet. There was no argument that the carpenter played a role in the plank’s collapse, considering he’d just built it. Still, he won his case against the owners of the property at trial.
In addition to the strict liability protections available to construction workers under Labor Law §240(1), Labor Law §§241(6) and 200 also are available to hold general contractors and owners responsible even when an injured worker is partially responsible for the accident. Labor Law §241(6) holds general contractors and owners responsible where there is a violation of a specific section of the New York Industrial Code that was a cause of the injured construction worker’s injuries. Labor Law §200 seeks to hold contractors and owners responsible for allowing an unsafe work-site when they are aware of a dangerous condition or dangerous manner in which work is being performed and fail to take appropriate actions. Notably, these two sections differ from Labor Law §240(1) in that they do not hold general contractors and owners strictly liable for a violation. If you are partially responsible under these sections, your monetary recovery would be pro-rated based upon the worker’s degree of comparative negligence.
New York’s comparative negligence rule allows for fault to be apportioned between negligent parties in a case based on the respective parties’ contribution to the accident. For example, you may have been in a car wreck that was mostly your fault, but the other driver was arguably negligent. Your fault may be apportioned at 70%, while the other driver is found to be 30% responsible. In this hypothetical, you would receive 30% of the damages. Thus, if a jury found your fractured leg injury was worth $100,000, you would still recover $30,000.
In DeCerce v. New York State Thruway Authority, we can see how comparative negligence applies in a case related to a car accident. Here, the widow of a man killed in a car accident brought a wrongful death suit against the defendants, claiming that unsafe roads were the cause of her husband’s death and that the defendant was negligent in failing to keep the roads properly maintained. The defense argued the widow’s husband was driving recklessly and that the accident was his fault. The court apportioned 50% of the blame to the widow’s husband and 50% to the defendants for the cause of the accident. The widow still received hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Here’s an example of a premises liability case that demonstrates how comparative negligence permits an award to an injured person who was partially at fault. In Lindsay v. Costco Wholesale Corp., a woman was walking in the parking lot of a Costco store when she slipped and fell off the curb of an icy sidewalk, resulting in a fractured ankle. The jury determined that the defendants were negligent in allowing the snow and ice to accumulate and apportioned 75% of fault to Costco and 25% to the injured woman. Still, she received $416,250 of the $555,000 reward.
While it may seem counterintuitive, the fact is that in New York you can be a cause of an accident and still receive significant compensation. If you have been injured in an accident, don’t delay in speaking with an attorney right away to protect your rights.