GVK’s appellate practice chair, C. Briggs Johnson, recently secured a major appellate victory in a Labor Law action. In Vasquez v. Manhattan College (App. Div. First Department Case No.: 2023-01676), plaintiff alleged that he injured himself on a construction project when he fell off a ladder while removing asbestos for our client (and his employer) in the basement of Leo Hall, a building owned by Manhattan College in the Bronx. Plaintiff demanded $10.5 million dollars, and the College looked to our client to indemnify them for the accident. On appeal, we proved that no indemnity obligation existed regarding plaintiff’s accident.
GVK attorney Bryan Schwartz and his team successfully dismissed Manhattan College’s contractual indemnity claims against our client on the grounds that the newer agreement between the two only had an indemnity obligation running in favor of our client and not Manhattan College. Later, Manhattan College found another, older agreement covering asbestos work a year or so earlier at the College. The College argued that the older agreement was the main agreement between the College and our client, and that the newer agreement merely supplemented the older agreement.
The Appellate Division disagreed and found our arguments more persuasive: that the newer agreement was separately negotiated; that the newer agreement unambiguously provided no indemnification for the college; that the newer agreement covered a different portion of the Leo Hall building; that the newer agreement had a separate project cost; and the newer agreement made no reference to the older agreement that Manhattan College found.
This is yet another poignant reminder of how every word in a construction contract truly does matter, and it reinforces the immense value of having a skilled appellate practitioner to investigate and dissect every single word in such contracts, which can be the crucial difference between – as it was here – avoiding Labor Law exposure.