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New York’s Scaffold Law Under Fire

The seminal law protecting construction workers in the state of New York is under fire from a construction industry group calling for “scaffold law reform.” The group behind scaffoldlaw.org claims that New York’s Labor Law § 240(1) costs taxpayers more than $785 million a year, drives up construction costs and discourages companies from hiring workers. The group is planning to take its campaign to Albany on February 2, 2016. At Jakubowski, Robertson, Maffei, Goldsmith & Tartaglia, we are concerned that this campaign will weaken protections for workers engaged in inherently dangerous labor high above the streets of New York.

The first scaffold law was enacted in 1885 as a response to unsafe work conditions for employees who were at risk of falls from great heights. The law has been amended several times over the decades. Today’s scaffold law, and the New York case law it has generated, requires property owners and contractors to furnish or erect adequate safety devices and imposes liability when those persons violate a safety statute and an accident happens as a direct result.

Scaffold law detractors claim the law places the contractor in the position of an insurer for its workers and holds companies liable even when a worker’s own gross negligence causes an accident. However, the highest court in New York, the Court of Appeals, has clearly contradicted that assertion. In Blake v. Neighborhood Housing Service of NYC, 11 N.Y.3d 280 (2003), the court stated that “at no time did the Court or Legislature even suggest that a defendant should be treated as an insurer after having furnished a safe workplace. The point of Labor Law 240 (1) is to compel contractors and owners to comply with the law, not to penalize them when they have done so.”

Contractors in New York have nothing to fear from the scaffold law provided they fulfill their duty under the law. But construction workers – and the public at large – have much to fear from contractors who might shirk their duty to provide workers with safe scaffolding and adequate safety equipment.

If you have questions about your rights after a construction accident, speak to a knowledgeable and compassionate attorney at Jakubowski, Robertson, Maffei, Goldsmith & Tartaglia. Case evaluations are free of charge.

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