Appellate Division affirms verdict in favor of defendant construction manager after bench trial in Labor Law case

Smith Sovik attorneys Edward Smith and Anthony Brighton successfully obtained an appellate division decision affirming a verdict reached by an Oneida County Supreme Court after a bench trial. The case involved a dispute regarding indemnification rights between defendants in a Labor Law § 240 case after one defendant had entered a settlement agreement. The suit concerned an injury to an employee of an electrical contractor working on construction of a new home. The defendants included the homeowner, the construction manager, and a subcontractor hired by the construction manager. The homeowner contended that the construction manager and the subcontractor were liable for the injury because they had statutory control and responsibility over the worksite and exercised actual supervision over the electrical contractor’s work. Attorney Smith obtained a verdict in Supreme Court on behalf of the construction manager by presenting evidence showing that the homeowner had maintained and exercised ultimate authority over all hiring of contractors and subcontractors at the site, that the homeowner had specifically hired the electrical contractor without the construction manager’s knowledge or approval, that the homeowner had been made aware of the electrical contractor’s intention to perform work in an unsafe manager, and that the homeowner was the only party with authority to stop the electrical contractor from working unsafely. Therefore, the construction manager was not liable for common law or contractual indemnification because the homeowner was himself negligent and because the homeowner retained authority to control the project under the contract between the homeowner and the construction manager. On appeal, the homeowner argued that the weight of the evidence did not support the verdict, but Attorneys Smith and Brighton successfully defended the Supreme Court decision. Among other things, the appellate argument pointed out that the homeowner had failed to testify on his own behalf at trial and had failed to rebut the construction manager’s specific testimony regarding the homeowner’s statements admitting liability for the accident and admitting responsibility under the governing contract.