Court of Appeal Affirms Jury Verdict for Defense in Fall Off of a Ladder Case Premised Upon Sole Proximate Cause
In the matter of Bonczar v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc., 38 N.Y.3d 1023 (2022) the plaintiff filed suit claiming violations of Labor Law 240(1) after he fell from an A-Frame ladder he was using to install a smoke detection system. At his deposition, the plaintiff was equivocal on the issue of whether he had checked the ladder to ensure that it was locked in place when he ascended it prior to his fall, admitting that he may not have done so.
The plaintiff moved for summary judgment on his Labor Law 240(1) claim, alleging that because he fell from a ladder, he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. We opposed the motion, arguing that there was a triable issue of fact whether the plaintiff’s actions in failing to ensure that the ladder was in the locked position prior to ascending the ladder was the sole proximate cause of the accident. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion, and we appealed. The Appellate Division, Fourth Department reversed, agreeing that there was a triable question of fact whether the plaintiff was the sole proximate cause of the accident. The appeal included a two-judge dissent.
At the trial, the jury concluded that the plaintiff’s failure to check that the ladder was in the fully locked position prior to his accident was the sole proximate cause of the accident, and returned a defense verdict. The plaintiff moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict post-trial, and the trial court denied that motion. The plaintiff appealed, and the Appellate Division, Fourth Department affirmed the jury verdict.
The plaintiff then appealed, from the final judgment to the Court of Appeals, seeking a review of both the Appellate Division’s decision on the appeal concerning the motion for summary judgment, as well as the Appellate Division’s decision on the appeal from the jury verdict. With respect to the decision on the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff argued the decision was appealable as of right because the Appellate Division decision included a two-judge dissent and because it necessarily affected the final verdict. With respect to the appeal from the jury verdict, the plaintiff requested permission to have that decision reviewed, which was granted.
Ultimately, we prevailed on behalf of the defendant as the Court of Appeals affirmed. With respect to the jury verdict, the Court concluded that the jury verdict was not against the weight of the evidence, and affirmed the jury’s finding. With respect to the decision on the motion for summary judgment, the Court concluded that such decision was not reviewable as it did not “necessarily affect the verdict” inasmuch as the decision did not remove a legal decision from the case such that there was no further opportunity to raise the issue decided by the prior non-final order.