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May 19, 2023

NYS Appellate Court Dismisses Common Law Claims Against Contractor for Injuries Sustained by "Special Employee"

In New York State, an injured employee’s right to compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Law is the exclusive remedy available against their employer for a work-related injury. The statute acts as a bar to personal injury lawsuits brought by injured workers against their employers. Likewise, other parties who are sued by the injured employee cannot seek common law indemnification or contribution against the employer unless the worker sustained a “grave” injury, as defined in the Workers’ Compensation Law. These principles can also apply with respect to injuries sustained by temporary workers hired for a particular event or period of time if they qualify as “special employees.”

In Carey v. Toy Indus. Ass’n TM, Inc.,1  the New York State Appellate Division, First Department, in a partial reversal, held that a contractor established its entitlement to summary judgment dismissal of common law claims by showing that the plaintiff was a “special employee” and did not sustain a “grave” injury.

The plaintiff sued the organizer of a toy show after he was injured in the course of his work at the show. The organizer asserted third-party claims for contractual and common law indemnification and contribution against Freeman Decorating Services, Inc., a service contractor that performed work for the show. The plaintiff was not a regular employee of Freeman. He had been hired by Freeman as a temporary carpenter from a union to perform certain work at the show under Freeman’s supervision. 

The trial court denied Freeman’s motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the common law indemnification and contribution claims, holding that Freeman had failed to show the plaintiff was its employee.

On appeal, however, the First Department reversed in part, holding that Freeman established that the plaintiff was a “special employee” when his accident occurred and, therefore, the third-party common law claims were precluded by the Workers’ Compensation Law. As the court noted, the evidence showed that Freeman provided the plaintiff with a list of daily tasks, supplied him with materials, and supervised his work. Thus, the court found, Freeman established that the plaintiff was a special employee, and that it was entitled to a dismissal of the common law indemnification and contribution claims.

The Carey decision contains a good statement of the legal principles regarding the exclusive remedies against employers afforded by the Workers’ Compensation Law. In particular, parties involved in workplace accidents should be aware that these principles could apply even if the injured worker is not a regular employee of the party who hired them.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Sanjeev Devabhakthuni, partner, at; Matthew Larkin, Torts & Products Liability Practice Area chair, at; or another member of the firm’s Torts & Products Liability Practice Area.

12023 NY Slip Op 02280 (1st Dep’t, May 1, 2023).

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