Kevin G. Faley and Andrea M. Alonso

Originally published in the

Journal of the Defense Association of New York

Winter 2018

Under Labor Law § 240(1), owners and general contractors are liable when a laborer is injured “as a direct consequence of a failure to provide adequate protection against the risk arising from a physically significant elevation differential.”  Runner v. New York Stock Exchange, 2009 WL 484 0213 (2009).  Such risks include falling from an elevated height, being struck by a falling object and sustaining an injury that flows directly from the application of the force of gravity to an object. 

Accidents involving ramps can involve a gravity-related risk, but do these accidents involve a “physically significant elevation differential?”  And are the risks posed by ramps of such a nature that calls for the protection of Labor Law § 240(1)?  New York courts have conflicting holdings about whether the Labor Law affords protection in these situations.

Ramp as a Passageway Versus Ramp as Part of a Work Site

Courts will usually distinguish between a ramp used as a passageway and a ramp that is part of a work site when deciding whether Labor Law 240(1) is triggered.  While Labor Law 240(1) does not apply when the injury involves a ramp that is being used as a passageway it may apply if the ramp is being used for the benefit of the injured worker to perform his work.

In Donohue v. CJAM Associates, LLC, the plaintiff fell from a ramp that provided workers access to the work site. 22 A.D.3d 710 (2d Dep’t 2005). The court found that Labor Law § 240(1) did not apply because it was not being used as a ladder, scaffold, hoist, or other safety device as contemplated by this section. Instead, it was being used as a passageway that allowed laborers to enter the work site.

In Lewis v. Brighton One, LLC, the plaintiff fell off of a plywood ramp when it cracked underneath him. 26 Misc. 3d 1219(A) (Sup. Ct., Kings Cty. 2010). On the day of the accident, he had been assigned to use the ramp to move materials from one worker to another. The court determined that the plaintiff had been using the ramp to perform his job of moving materials, not to get from one area to another. Therefore, the ramp could come within Labor Law § 240(1) so long as it was elevated high enough to trigger Labor Law § 240(1) protections.

Recently, in Hoyos v. NY-1095 Avenue of the Americas, LLC, the First Department rejected the distinction between a ramp as a passageway and a ramp as part of a work site. 156 A.D.3d 491 (1st Dep’t 2017). The plaintiff was injured when he fell off of a loading dock. The loading dock was the only means for any laborers to enter or exit the building, where laborers were performing construction work on some of the higher floors. The court found that Labor Law § 240(1) applied, reasoning that the loading dock was part of the construction site. Furthermore, the court continued, a laborer did not need to be directly involved in an enumerated activity for the scaffolding law to provide protections. The dissent, however, argued that Labor Law § 240(1) did not apply, reasoning that the plaintiff was not involved in an enumerated activity because he had not begun his work yet, nor was he on the construction site when the injury occurred.

Ramp Elevation

To determine whether Labor Law § 240(1) applies, a court will not only consider how the plaintiff was using the ramp, but it will also consider the elevation of the ramp.

In DeStefano v. Amtad N.Y., the plaintiff was assigned to turn on power at the construction site before the other laborers arrived. 269 A.D.2d 229 (1st Dep’t 2000). When walking up the ramp that led to the entrance of the building, the plaintiff slipped on snow that had accumulated on the ramp overnight. The First Department found that the plaintiff’s Labor Law § 240(1) claim failed because the ramp, which rose to, at most, 12 inches, did not present an elevation hazard.

In contrast, in Arrasti v. HRH Construction LLC, the plaintiff fell from a ramp when he was wheeling a loaded A-frame cart full of construction materials. 60 A.D.3d 582 (1st Dep’t 2009). The ramp was the only means of access to the concrete floor, which was approximately 18 inches below the hoist platform. The First Department found that the ramp was a device meant to protect workers from an elevation-related risk within the meaning of Labor Law § 240(1), and the failure to equip the ramp with handrails, curbs, or cleats was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The court found that 18 inches was not a de minimis height and granted the plaintiff summary judgment on his Labor Law § 240(1) claim.

Objects Falling Down Ramps

Sometimes a court will find that Labor Law § 240(1) applies in cases where the plaintiff was injured by an object falling down a ramp.

For example, in Marques v. Elite Flooring, Inc., the plaintiff was injured when he and two others were attempting to lower a scarifying machine (a heavy piece of machinery used to remove the existing floor) to the basement of the premises using an elevated plywood ramp positioned over stairs. 36 Misc. 3d 1202(A) (Sup. Ct., Queens Cty. 2012). The ramp broke under the weight of the machine, causing the plaintiff to fall and the machine to fall on top of him.

The defendants argued that Labor Law § 240(1) did not apply because the scarifying machine did not qualify as a falling object due to the lack of an elevation differential. The court rejected the argument, reasoning that the question was whether the injury was the direct consequence of a failure to provide adequate protection against a risk arising from a physically significant elevation differential. Because plaintiff’s injury was a direct consequence of the descent of the reel, and height differentials were not de minimis given the amount of force the scarifying machine may have generated in the course of its potentially rapid descent down the ramp, the court determined that the plaintiff was not precluded from bringing a Labor Law § 240(1) claim.

In Maraj v. Aurora Associates, L.P., the plaintiff and his co-workers were hoisting an elevator sheave up two flights of stairs. 38 Misc. 3d 282 (Sup. Ct., Queens Cty. 2012). The plaintiff placed planks flat on the stairs so that the machinery would be able to roll up without getting caught, and the laborers attached hoists to the top of each flight of stairs. Additionally, they attached a manual chain to the hoist and wrapped the chain around the sheave and hooked it to itself. The sheave had been hoisted about 24 inches when it hit the wall. The plaintiff heard a snap, the sheave came back down to the landing, and it pinned plaintiff’s finger to the left wall of the stairway. Plaintiff then noticed that the latch on the chain hoist’s hook was missing. The court found that the plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment on his Labor Law § 240(1) cause of action, reasoning that it was irrelevant that the sheave had never been hoisted off of the ground. Instead, what mattered was that the sheave fell back down the stairs without stopping. Furthermore, the sheave’s fall was a direct result of the hoist’s failure to adequately protect the plaintiff. Therefore, Labor Law § 240(1) applied.

In contrast, in Mancuso v. MTA New York City Transit, the plaintiff was allegedly injured when the aerial lift he was operating accelerated down a truck ramp. 80 A.D.3d 577 (2d Dep’t 2011). He did not fall from the lift, but he was injured when the aerial lift collided with a chain link gate and concrete barrier that had been installed at the bottom of the ramp. Without much explanation, the Second Department determined that there was no Labor Law § 240(1) claim as the accident did not involve an elevationrelated risk. It also distinguished this case from Maraj because the accident did not involve an object or worker who fell because he was inadequately secured.


Whether a Labor Law § 240(1) claim involving ramps will be successful will depend on a variety of factors, including how the ramp was being used, the height/elevation of the ramp and whether the injury resulted from a direct failure to provide adequate safety precautions.  As all Labor Law claims are fact specific, it is important to obtain as much favorable information through depositions as possible in order to position the case for a successful summary judgment motion or trial.