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NY Court Recalls Target’s Bid to Toss Worker Injury Verdict

NY Court Recalls Target's Bid to Toss Worker Injury Verdict

On November 12, a New York state appellate panel reinstated a jury verdict made in favor of the defendants, Target Corporation and Target Stores, in the Cioffi v. Target Corp liability suit.

The plaintiffs — Peter Cioffi and his wife — filed a liability lawsuit against Target seeking damages for personal injuries that the former suffered in 2005. The appeal was from the Supreme Court’s order, Suffolk County, on February 19, 2019.

The defendants’ motion, prescribed according to the CPLR 4404 (a), was granted via the order. It addresses an action by any party or the court’s initiative for a new trial or a verdict that directs where “the verdict is contrary to the weight of the evidence, in the interest of justice.” The Second Department’s case law rules that a new trial’s motion in the realm of justice “encompasses errors in the trial court’s rulings on the admissibility of evidence, mistakes in the charge, misconduct, newly discovered evidence, and surprise.”

On July 10, 2005, Cioffi — employed with the Communication Technology Services (CTS) — was working at a Nassau County Target store when he suffered a fall resulting in an injury.

He was installing a new paging system in the stockroom as part of a renovation project, using a scissor lift. Once completed, Cioffi removed the scissor lift and was about to retire for the day when he realized that his tool pouch was left behind.

Cioffi returned to the stockroom to retrieve the pouch that was hanging on a pipe. He tried fetching it by using a ladder, which was not CTS’s property. While doing so, the ladder “kicked out” and he fell to the ground.

Cioffi testified that he chose to use the ladder instead of the scissor lift because of the latter’s other-wise time-consuming maneuvering problem. He further stated that the CTS’s ladder was stored outside the Target building — which was closed at that time — in a container. Therefore, he couldn’t find anyone to let him out and decided to use Target’s ladder.

Cioffi and his wife started action against Target Corporation, suing Target Stores, Inc. and Westbury Holding Company — the owner of the premises, as well as other entities who were part of the renovation project. The suit also alleges a violation of Labor Law 240, among other things.

The Court detected many issues in a prior appeal from an order entered on April 16, 2012. The issues raised were based on specific conditions, such as whether Cioffi was an intractable employee and the imminent cause of his injuries was due to fault on the part of the other parties.

The jury returned a verdict that found a breach of the statutory duty under the defendant’s Labor Law 240. It was deemed a breach because the defendant failed to provide requisite safety gear to the plaintiff, ultimately leading to his fall and injuries. The verdict also stated that the plaintiff was neither the sole proximate cause of his injury, nor a recalcitrant employee.

In February 2019, Target was granted a motion to throw away the prior verdict, based on the rationale that Cioffi was the cause of his accident.

However, on Thursday, November 12, 2020, the appellate panel ruled that Target’s contention that Cioffi failed to establish a prima facie violation of Labor Law 240 was without any merit.

The panel further stated that for the initiation to be a violation under Labor Law 240, “there must be evidence that the ladder was defective or inadequately secured and that the defect, or the failure to secure the ladder, was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries.”