Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Law Of Chupahs

A wedding chupah was a structure under governing labor law, and a defendant's motion for summary judgment was properly denied, according to a decision of the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department.

The facts:

In the early morning of August 24, 2008, after the wedding celebration had ended, the plaintiff was disassembling the chupah, which was owned by Atlas. The chupah was a 10-foot-high device made of pipe, wood, and a fabric canopy at its top. The chupah's frame consisted of metal pipes that were 10 feet long and 3 inches wide, assembled to each other, and its vertical supports were attached to 4 steel plates on the floor. The plaintiff worked on disassembling the chupah from a six-foot high aluminum ladder supplied by his employer, on which two feet allegedly were missing. To perform the disassembly, the plaintiff was required to use a pipe wrench, a florist knife, wire cutters, and the ladder. A few minutes into disassembly, while a coworker was holding the ladder and the plaintiff was standing on the third rung from the top of the ladder, the ladder slipped and the plaintiff fell to the floor, sustaining injuries.

The law:

Whether an item is or is not a "structure" is fact-specific and must be determined on a case-by-case basis. In determining each case, courts may consider a number of relevant factors. These factors should include, but are not necessarily limited to, the item's size, purpose, design, composition, and degree of complexity; the ease or difficulty of its assembly and disassembly; the tools required to create it and dismantle it; the manner and degree of its interconnectingparts; and the amount of time the item is to exist. However, no one factor should be deemed controlling.

We find that in this case and upon consideration of all relevant factors, the Supreme Court properly held that the chupah at Abigail Kirsch was a "structure" within the intended scope of Labor Law § 240(1). In this action, the chupah consisted of various interconnected pipes 10 feet long and 3 inches wide, secured to steel metal bases supporting an attached fabric canopy. A ladder plus various hand tools were required to assemble and disassemble the chupah's constituent parts in a process that would take an experienced worker more than a few minutes to complete. The chupah here is more akin to the things and devices which the courts of this state have recognized as structures than to the things and devices that have not
been recognized as structures.

This is not to say that every chupah qualifies as a structure under Labor Law § 240(1). Undoubtedly, there are wide variations of chupahs, some involving a series of durable interconnected parts, and others being much more simple and merely decorative in nature. Whether or not a chupah qualifies as a "structure" under Labor Law § 240(1) requires a consideration of more than only the purpose for which it is used. For example, the assembled pipe, wood, and fabric chupah in this matter consisted of intricate, interconnected parts, whereas, the wedding canopy in Stanislawczyk v 2 E. 61st St. Corp. (1 AD3d 155), a case upon which the defendants heavily rely, was suspended from a ceiling and was not itself assembled or interconnected with any other object. While the items here and in Stanislawczyk may have been used for the same ultimate purpose, the items themselves were, in a structural sense, vastly different from one another, one being a simple one-piece object, and the other being a collection of attached pieces of wood, metal, and fabric.

(Mike Frisch)

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