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No Liability for Pallet Jack Fracas: Court Dismisses All Causes of Action against Operator of Produce Market

Gilley v. NYC Produce Terminal Market, 25317/2015E (Sup.Ct. Bronx Cty. Aug. 31, 2020)

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All Labor Law and negligence causes of action were dismissed on summary judgment in an action by a porter who was working at the famous Hunts Point Terminal Market.

In a ten-page Decision and Order, Supreme Court Justice Julia Rodriguez granted summary judgment in favor of the moving defendant, the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Cooperative Association, Inc., agreeing that plaintiff could not establish liability on any of his statutory or common law causes of action against it. Plaintiff testified that he was operating a pallet jack carrying a load of goods when it was struck by another pallet jack, also loaded with goods, under the control of an employee of another company. The impact knocked some items off the pallet plaintiff was moving, and he went to pick them up. While doing so, the other worker pushed a button on his pallet jack, releasing the forks, which descended and allegedly crushed plaintiff's foot. Plaintiff asserted claims under Labor Law sections 200, 240 and 241, and for negligence, and negligent hiring.

After the conclusion of discovery, defendant moved for summary judgment dismissing all claims and cross-claims against it. Defendant argued that it owed no duty to protect plaintiff from the accident, and there was no dangerous condition related to the accident; that it did not have authority to control the means and methods of plaintiff's work; that there was no construction or falling object involved so as to implicate Labor Law section 240(1); that plaintiff had not identified any violation of the Industrial Code to support a claim under Labor Law 241(6); and that none of defendant's employees, agents or independent contractors had been involved. Plaintiff contended that there were triable issues of fact, and that certain conditions at the market were a proximate cause of the accident. Plaintiff also argued that the lack of an expert affidavit made defendant's motion deficient or defective. The parties submitted for review and consideration an extensive record including the deposition testimony of three separate witnesses, two leases and various other documents.

Finding no duty owed to the Plaintiff, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's negligence and Labor Law section 200 claims. The Court wrote, "[h]ere, irrespective of whether plaintiff's alleged injuries are deemed to have occurred as a result of the collision between the two pallet jacks or the drop of the fork of [the other company's] pallet jack onto plaintiff's foot, his alleged injuries arose from the manner by which work was being performed by the plaintiff and [the other worker]. Plaintiff contends that his accident was caused by chaotic "traffic" and/or an inadequate "traffic" design at the Market. However, based upon the deposition testimony of plaintiff and [another witness], the collision of the two pallet jacks and the descent of the fork ... onto plaintiff's foot occurred on the platform of [the subtenant's] unit, which was under [subtenant's] sole control." Lease provisions pertaining to traffic and parking on roadways and parking areas could not be extended to the operation of pallet jacks in other areas. The subtenant, not the moving defendant, controlled the conduct of its business and its own employees and invitees.

As there was no dispute that no construction was being performed at the time or location of the accident, and that none of defendant's employees, agents or independent contractors were involved, the Court also dismissed plaintiff's claims under Labor Law sections 240(1) and 241(6), and claims for negligent hiring, training or supervision.

AGF&J partner Steven DiSiervi briefed and argued the motion, assisted by associate James Brown.

Attorneys

Steven DiSiervi

Practice Areas

Premises Liability