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Court of Appeals Reverses Appellate Division and Clarifies Integral to Work Defense

Just last month, the Court of Appeals issued a wide-ranging decision on Labor Law Section 241(6) that will likely have significant practical implications for owners, developers, and contractors in the construction industry.

In Bazdaric v Almah Partners LLC, 2024 NY Slip Op 00847, the court reversed the Appellate Division, First Department. It granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment under his Labor Law Section 241(6) cause of action. In so doing, the court addressed the scope and use of the so-called "integral to the work defense." The Court also expanded the scope of New York State Industrial Code provision 23-1.7(d), which will be addressed in a separate post. Here, we focus on the integral to the work defense portion of the decision and its implications. 

The integral to work defense typically applies under Labor Law Section 241(6). The doctrine is often invoked by defendants who are alleged to have violated some specific section of the New York State Industrial Code, which is a necessary predicate to liability under this section of the Labor Law. 

The defense is often asserted as such: the plaintiff cannot recover against the defendants for his trip and fall on, for example, Masonite floor covering, as the Masonite floor covering is integral to the work being performed. That is, Masonite is not some foreign debris inadvertently placed on the floor. It is a safety measure purposely laid on the floor and is integral to the work. The work cannot be performed without the Masonite. If it were, the floor would be damaged. Thus, liability under the statute is barred. The defense could be invoked even if there was evidence that the Masonite had some unsafe characteristic ostensibly caused by a defendant's negligence (e.g., cracked, mislaid, etc.). 

Before this decision, such an argument could be successful, depending on the circumstances.

The Court of Appeals made clear that the law requires that for the defense to apply, the evidence must show that the dangerous condition is inherent to the task at hand and also not a hazard created by the negligence of the defendant and of the avoidable kind, without obstructing the work or endangering the worker.

Practically, we expect that the Appellate Division will apply the law in a way that requires the defendant to show not simply that the hazard was inherent to the task but that whatever method, technique, or equipment used was necessary to perform the work and that a safer alternative that would allow the work to be performed was not available. 

In other words, we anticipate that courts may require the defendant to show that whatever injured the worker was integral to the work and that no other safer method could have been used that would still have allowed the work to be completed. 

For example, using the Masonite example above, if a worker is injured on Masonite that is unevenly and inappropriately laid and has portions that are raised, which cause the worker to trip and fall, and the defendant asserts that the Masonite was integral to the work being performed (e.g., to protect the floor from damage), it will likely be insufficient to invoke the integral to work defense successfully. 

It is not enough that the Masonite was integral to the work (which may, in fact, be confirmed). The defendant must also show that the hazard in which the plaintiff was injured was not created by the defendant's own negligence and that no other safer alternative was available. Here, whether the defendant created the condition of the Masonite or not, the fact that the Masonite could have been laid more safely would render the integral to work defense inapplicable. 

The law accepts that certain construction work is inherently dangerous and is sometimes performed under hazardous conditions. As the Court of Appeals has now clarified, the law does not permit hazardous conditions when other safer alternatives are available that would still allow inherently dangerous work to be completed. 

All owners, contractors, and their agents will have to proceed accordingly. 

Stay tuned for further commentary on the decision in the coming weeks.



The doctrine thus recognizes that certain work assignments are, by their nature, dangerous but still permissible, and the particular commands of the Industrial Code may not apply if they would make it impossible to conduct the work. Thus, in Salazar it was inherent to the job of filling a trench that the plaintiff work near an unfilled opening, an obvious falling hazard. The doctrine does not, as the Appellate Division majority mistakenly concluded, absolve a defendant of liability for the use of an avoidable dangerous condition or for failure to mitigate the danger, including as specifically provided by the Industrial Code, if preventive measures would not make it impossible to complete the work.


labor law, construction, litigation, appeal