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Court: Injured worker can sue county


Staff writer

The state’s highest court has ruled that a 45-year-old Rochester man who was badly injured eight years ago on the job at the Monroe County Recycling Center can sue the county for damages.

In its ruling dated Thursday, the Court of Appeals overturned decisions by two lower courts that found the county was not liable for injuries suffered by John Gronski because a private company was under contract to operate the countyowned Lee Road recycling center.

Gronski was seriously hurt when an improperly stacked paper bale weighing nearly one ton toppled over onto him in August 2003.

Gronski was an employee of the private contractor, Metro Waste Paper Recovery, at the time.

He sued the county for damages in 2004 but judges in state Supreme Court and the Appellate Division determined that the county’s relationship to the center was akin to that of “an out-of- possession landlord who relinquishes control of the premises” and that the county was not liable.

But the Court of Appeals found that the contract "vested the county with ultimate authority over Metro Waste's operating procedures" and that "the county maintained both a visible and vocal presence at the recycling center." The ruling allows the case to proceed at trial in Supreme Court.

Gronski's lawyer, Elizabeth Wolford, said the ruling was significant from a premises liability standpoint.

"The court clarified that a property owner cannot rely on the out-ofpossession landlord standard if they never created a leasehold interest," Wolford said. "Here, the county never transferred possession of the facility to the tenant." Monroe County Director of Communications Noah Lebowitz said Friday that the county was still evaluating the ruling and would determine its response "in the coming days."

Lebowitz did note, however, that Metro Waste had insurance that covers the legal expenses and any potential settlement or judgment in the case.