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The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up Republican John Faso’s H.R. 3088, the Infrastructure Expansion Act. The legislation targets New York’s so-called “Scaffold Law,” which imposes absolute liability for property owners and contractors for injuries sustained by workers. The bill would apply to infrastructure projects that receive federal funds.
Congressman Faso has said that the law has pushed New York’s construction-insurance costs higher than any other state. That, in turn, has resulted in fewer construction projects, he wrote. “(I)nsurance costs associated with the Scaffold Law were so high that several disaster relief organizations gave up on helping New York families affected by Superstorm Sandy, choosing instead to help those in neighboring states,” Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte wrote to the Judiciary Committee in a memorandum. “[W]here federal funds are involved, no state should be able to impose an absolute liability rule that substantially increases infrastructure and housing costs to federal taxpayers.” Goodlatte’s memorandum to the committee says five of the top 20 verdicts in New York in 2016 were Scaffold Law cases. Those verdicts totaled $54.3 million, and one-third of the 50 highest reported mediated settlements involve the same claims.
However, New York State’s trial lawyers group countering that it keeps workers safe and does not have the effect on the construction industry that some claim it does. “The downturn in construction all across New York State over the last few years obviously can not be blamed on the Scaffold Law, which existed when construction was thriving in much of the state before the recent national recession,” NYSTLA says. “The ups and downs of local economics, not the life-saving Scaffold Law, determine construction activity and employment.”
The New York legislature has not passed any reforms to the law.
Construction Accidents and New York’s Scaffold Law
As previously reported in this blog, New York State law provides that an injured person who was in a construction accident, and his or her family, can recover not only for lost wages but for the pain and suffering, and in the case of a death, for the lost wages for the rest of the time that the person would have worked.
Construction accidents include:
- Ladder and roof falls and collapses
- Electrical accidents
- Defective equipment accidents
- Hoisting injuries and falling loads and objects
- Slips and falls and fall protection failures
- Float stage and form work accidents
- Back and shoulder injuries, amputations, and traumatic brain injuries
Where there is construction when heights are involved, Labor Law Section 240 — also known as the “Scaffold Law” or “Gravity Law” — protects the rights of workers who have been injured in construction accidents involving heights by allowing them to bring lawsuits against the general contractors in charge of the construction sites, and owners of the site, where height-related accidents take place.
Section 240 reads as follows, with emphasis added:
1. All contractors and owners and their agents, except owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work, in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure shall furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection to a person so employed. No liability pursuant to this subdivision for the failure to provide protection to a person so employed shall be imposed on professional engineers as provided for in article one hundred forty-five of the education law, architects as provided for in article one hundred forty-seven of such law or landscape architects as provided for in article one hundred forty-eight of such law who do not direct or control the work for activities other than planning and design. This exception shall not diminish or extinguish any liability of professional engineers or architects or landscape architects arising under the common law or any other provision of law.
2. Scaffolding or staging more than twenty feet from the ground or floor, swung or suspended from an overhead support or erected with stationary supports, except scaffolding wholly within the interior of a building and covering the entire floor space of any room therein, shall have a safety rail of suitable material properly attached, bolted, braced or otherwise secured, rising at least thirty-four inches above the floor or main portions of such scaffolding or staging and extending along the entire length of the outside and the ends thereof, with only such openings as may be necessary for the delivery of materials. Such scaffolding or staging shall be so fastened as to prevent it from swaying from the building or structure.
3. All scaffolding shall be so constructed as to bear four times the maximum weight required to be dependent therefrom or placed thereon when in use.”
The goal of the law is to protect the worker against the dangers of gravity. To apply the statute, the accident must have occurred when the worker fell or when the worker was injured by a falling object. The mere fact that the worker was “elevated” does not create a cause of action under the Labor Law. In order to get the statute’s protection ffrom injury from a falling object, an object must fall as a result of a failure of an elevation device, such as an elevator, pulley, hoist, scaffold, or ladder.
The New York statute provides special legal protection to workers while working at heights primarily for two reasons: (i) the severity of the injuries that result from elevated falls, and (ii) construction workers rely on the project owner, general contractor, construction manager or project manager to provide a safe working environment. This law is unique in that workers’ compensation prohibits lawsuits against construction site supervisors in accident claims in most jurisdictions. Filing a claim will not affect any workers’ compensation benefits, and both cases can proceed concurrently.
Liability under Section 240 is absolute. When establishing responsibility for a fall, plaintiff’s fault, if any, is minor. Liability cases filed against property owners or construction firms cannot be defended by presenting a positive safety record in the past. Related Section 241 of the New York Labor Law requires that employers provide safety equipment to all workers, and outlines how a site must be constructed, equipped, arranged, and guarded, among other aspects of managing a construction site and team of workers.
Please see our other construction and Scaffold Law-related posts:
Legoland Developments & New York Scaffold Law
Union Opposition to NYC Construction Company Plans in Orange County
Orange County Government Center Construction Progress
Orange County Legoland Project & New York Labor Law Concerns
#NewYork #infrastructure #construction #accident #personalinjury
If you or a family member suffered injuries from a construction accident, you or your family member may be entitled to money damages.
We take your calls and meet with your family personally to answer all your questions. We will press your insurance company for the coverage you are entitled to and help you recover the compensation you deserve. Personal injury cases require a wealth of experience, and a network of proven experts, including doctors and medical experts, accident recreation experts, insurance investigators, private investigators, and the resources necessary to fight large insurance companies.
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