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LOUIS SARNOFF v. CHARLES SCHAD (05/29/68)

COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK 1968.NY.41883 <http://www.versuslaw.com>; 239 N.E.2d 194; 22 N.Y.2d 180 decided: May 29, 1968. LOUIS SARNOFF, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT,v.CHARLES SCHAD, INC., RESPONDENT, AND ASSOCIATED CHURCH ARTS, APPELLANT Sarnoff v. Charles Schad, Inc., 28 A.D.2d 921, affirmed. Counsel John F. Haggerty, Denis M. Hurley and George P. Lane for appellant. Benjamin H. Siff and Monroe Mandell for respondent-appellant. Counsel Robert E. Curran and Kevin D. Moloney for respondent. Jasen, J. Chief Judge Fuld and Judges Burke, Scileppi, Bergan, Keating and Breitel concur. Author: Jasen


Sarnoff v. Charles Schad, Inc., 28 A.D.2d 921, affirmed.

Jasen, J. Chief Judge Fuld and Judges Burke, Scileppi, Bergan, Keating and Breitel concur.

Author: Jasen

 We are asked on these cross appeals to determine the liability of a general contractor for injuries sustained by an employee of a subcontractor as the result of a fall from a scaffold which the general contractor undertook to have furnished and which violated the standards set forth in section 240 of the Labor Law. Also at issue is the liability to the injured party of the subcontractor who constructed the scaffold.

The relevant facts are not in dispute. Associated Church Arts (Associated) was the general contractor engaged to repair, paint and decorate a church in Brooklyn. Plaintiff was an employee of Hans Schmidt, one of several subcontractors retained to do the work on the church. Associated contracted with Charles Schad, Inc. (Schad) to "furnish, erect and remove wood scaffolding on the inside of St. Joseph's Church * * * so that the main ceiling and the side walls can be decorated from same".

The scaffolding supplied by Schad consisted in the main of parallel planks resting on cross pieces. It had been in use for approximately four weeks. At the trial, Associated stipulated that "the defendant Associated Church Arts made a contract with Schad under which Schad erected and maintained scaffolding in that church for the use of the painters and all the trades working for four various subcontractors".

On November 20, 1959, plaintiff was walking on a scaffold approximately 21 feet above the ground when suddenly a board tilted, throwing him off balance, resulting in his fall to the floor below. There was no guardrail on the scaffold.

Plaintiff brought this action against Associated and Schad on theories of common-law negligence and violation of section 240 of the Labor Law. A cross claim by Associated against Schad is not before this court.

At a trial on the issue of liability only, the court charged the jury with common-law negligence and submitted the following four interrogatories to them:

1. "Was the defendant Charles Schad, Incorporated guilty of negligence?"

2. "Was the defendant Associated Church Arts guilty of negligence?"

3. "Was the failure to have the safety rails on the scaffold the cause of plaintiff's fall?"

4. "Was the plaintiff guilty of contributory negligence?" The jury returned a general verdict against both defendants and answered questions 1, 2 and 3 in the affirmative, and question number 4 in the negative.

In a subsequent written opinion (49 Misc. 2d 1059), the Trial Judge found Associated liable on a theory of common-law negligence. Based on the affirmative answer to question number 3, the Judge also found that Associated violated section 240 of the Labor Law as a matter of law. The Judge likewise found Schad liable on common-law principles. In a later published opinion (50 Misc. 2d 418), the Judge reversed himself as to Schad's liability, holding that a supplier is not liable for a patently dangerous appliance.

In this court Associated argues that the trial court's failure to present the question of Associated's violation of the Labor Law to the jury deprived it of its constitutional right to trial by jury. It also urges that, since there was no proof that it had ever supervised the work, exercised any control over the scaffold, directed the plaintiff or his employer in their work, had notice of any defect in the scaffold or knowingly hired an incompetent scaffold builder, it cannot be held liable to an employee ...


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