City Not Liable In Crane Collapse

In 2008, a crane operator and a construction worker were killed when a construction crane collapsed on the east side of Manhattan. The decedents’ estates brought suit against the project owner, the construction manager and the crane operator. The three construction defendants asserted cross-claims against the City of New York seeking indemnification and contribution on the grounds that the City failed in its duty to keep the construction site safe.

The trial court dismissed the cross-claims against the City. The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division First Department unanimously affirmed the trial court. The Appellate Court held that the City of New York did not have to indemnify the three defendants in the wrongful death suits arising from a deadly crane collapse because the plaintiffs had not shown a special relationship between the City and the three defendants that would give rise to a special duty. The Court distinguished between the exercise of the City’s general duty to the public and an affirmative duty that the City may assume towards a particular group. The Court stated:

“A municipality is not liable for negligent performance of a governmental function unless there exists a special duty to the injured party, as opposed to a general duty owed the public. Here there is nothing in the record that indicates that the City assumed an affirmative duty, either through promises or acts, to ensure the safety of the crane on the construction defendants’ behalf.”

A copy of the decision, In re East 91st Street Crane Collapse Litigation, can be found here.