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New York Scaffold Law Has Protected Construction Workers For 130 Years


A law unique to New York protects construction workers in elevation-related tasks with risks of falls or being hit by falling objects.

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. So goes the old adage; and in the case of the New York Scaffold Law, supporters of the statute agree that current efforts to undermine the strong construction-worker safety measure should be defeated. Since 1885, the law has withstood the winds of political change in its steadfast protection of workers against injury and death from elevation-related accidents.

The Scaffold Law imposes absolute liability on contractors, property owners or their agents if they fail to provide required safety equipment to construction workers facing the dangerous risks associated with working at and around elevated work sites. If, because of a breach of this duty, a construction worker is injured or killed, the contractor or property owner is then liable for the harm.

The law enumerates specific activities that come within its purview, which generally include construction, demolition, repair, painting, cleaning and pointing. Covered incidents include injury from a fall, or from being struck by a falling object (equipment, materials, debris and so on).

Contractors and owners will not be liable if adequate safety equipment was provided and the worker, although aware of the safety devices and aware that he or she was supposed to use them, chose for no good reason not to do so, or if the accident was completely the fault of the injured construction worker.

Liability may include damages for lost wages, pain and suffering, medical bills and more.

Supporters And Opponents Of The Law

In today’s charged political atmosphere in Albany, opponents of the Scaffold Law vow to get it amended or repealed. One reason sometimes cited is that the law is allegedly driving up insurance costs. Supporters of the statute have responded that there has been no proof tying Scaffold Law claims to premium increases, and the insurance companies have so far refused to disclose any data on this issue. A bill has been introduced that would require insurers to make construction-site claim numbers and costs public in an effort to accurately analyze these assertions.

Opponents of the current law also claim that contractors and owners are automatically liable for these types of injuries. That statement is a gross exaggeration. Absolute liability only attaches if contractor or owner fault (i.e., the failure to provide proper protection) can be proven and if that fault caused an injury. While liability is described as “strict” or “absolute,” those descriptions only apply after fault and causation are proven.

The law’s purpose is to force the parties that manage and control the construction site to make it safe for relatively powerless workers. Contractors and property owners know what the safety requirements are and they are the ones in the position to provide them. The law has the teeth it does to make contractors and owners comply with commonsense safety measures to protect workers from horrific dangers that can develop when working at heights or around heavy equipment and materials that are overhead.

Speak With An Experienced Attorney

Any construction worker (even with immigration status concerns), who is injured on the job by a fall or from being struck by a falling object, should speak with an experienced personal injury attorney to learn about potential legal remedies that might be available, including a Scaffold Law claim.

In New York City, the construction law attorneys at Arye, Lustig & Sassower, P.C., represent and advocate for injured construction workers and the families of workers who have died on the job. Arye, Lustig & Sassower, P.C., strongly supports retaining all the protections in the Scaffold Law to provide for injured workers and as a deterrent to those who might otherwise cut corners and compromise safety. Contact us.

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