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An appellate court reinstated a jury decision in favor of a telecommunications installer who sued Target Corp. after he was injured after using one of the company’s ladders to retrieve his tools.
In Cioffi v. Target, the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Second Department, in Brooklyn on Thursday overturned the Suffolk County Supreme Court’s decision to set aside a jury verdict in favor of the worker who was attempting to recover damages for his personal injuries.
On July 10, 2005, Mr. Cioffi, an employee of Communication Technology Services, was installing a new paging system inside a stockroom of a Target store as part of a renovation project. He had been using a scissor lift, and when he completed his work, he removed the lift. However, he realized that his tool pouch was hanging from a pipe and used a ladder inside the stockroom that did not belong to CTS to retrieve it. While on the ladder, it “kicked out” from under him, causing him to fall to the floor and suffer injuries.
A jury found Target to be liable for his injuries, holding that the big box retailer breached its duty by failing to provide Mr. Cioffi with the necessary safety equipment, and finding that he was not the sole proximate cause of his own accident and or a recalcitrant worker.
Target moved to set aside the verdict and judgment as a matter of law dismissing the complaint, which was granted. Mr. Cioffi appealed.
The appellate court reversed the court’s ruling, reinstating the jury’s decision. The court noted that under New York labor law, a worker may be the sole proximate cause of his own injuries if adequate safety devices were available, both parties knew that the devices were available and expected to be used, the worker chose, for no good reason, not to wear the device and would not have been injured had he not made the choice.
Although Target argued that there was no evidence the ladder was defective or inadequately secured and that a defect or failure to secure was the cause of the worker’s injuries, the court found that both parties presented conflicting evidence as to whether adequate safety devices were available to Mr. Cioffi, whether he knew he was expected to lose those devices and whether he had good reason for choosing to use Target’s ladder rather than one form his employer.
The court held that there was a “valid line of reasoning and permissible inferences that could have led a rational jury to conclude that the plaintiff was neither a recalcitrant worker nor the sole proximate cause of his injuries.”
An administrative law judge of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission upheld citations and $4,000 in penalties assessed against a Massachusetts contractor for failing to provide fall protection and appropriate ladders for his workers.