SCAFFOLD LAW REVISITED

New York State legislators are being lobbied by consumer groups, trial attorneys, construction groups and insurance companies. The battle is over §240 of the Law Labor which can impose absolute ability on contractors and property owners of multifamily homes and commercial buildings. The law does not apply to one and two family property owners.

In an article in the Westchester County Business Journal on May 12, 2014, entitled “No letting go: Business embraces Scaffold Law reform”, the New York construction and business groups continue their fight to repeal or amend New York’s Scaffold Law. The Law was passed in 1885 when taller buildings increased danger of high altitude accidents. The reason for the Law has not been removed especially nowadays when buildings under construction in New York are 100 floors high or taller.

The main reason for calls for watering down or eliminating the Scaffold Laws §240 is that it adds costs to construction sites. No one who is arguing for the change says that reforming the laws will make it safer for construction workers, which is the purpose of the law. The argument by the construction industry and insurance companies is that the construction in municipalities, school districts, and tax payers inflates the cost of construction. They incorrectly state that large injury settlements are based upon absolute liability of §240 of the Labor Law. Large injury settlements exist because violating safety rules and regulation end up damaging scaffold workers with horrendous injuries such as traumatic brain injury, fractured bones, loss of limbs and death. It is the violation of the law that allows construction worker to have a case; it is the high elevations at which these worker’s work that cause the injuries, not the law.

The article points out that Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building & Construction Industry is suffering because insurers are holding the construction companies hostage with absurdly high insurance premiums. Gary LaBarbera point out correctly that “instead of taking their fight to the insurers, these businesses have joined them in a campaign against the Scaffold Law which talks about everything but the fundamental that drive insurance costs. A new group, the Scaffold Safety Coalition of Union Members, who supports the law, said changing the law would remove the need for contractors and project owners to adequately provide safety measures for workers. The Group said ballooning insurance rates are part of the nationwide trend, not a direct result of the law. Assemblyman Francisco Moya, a Democrat from Queens, proposed legislation this year to hold insurance companies more “accountable”. Governor Cuomo told Crain’s New York Business, the law wouldn’t be changed in 2014 because taxes would trump other reforms.

In the Journal News on July 11, 2014, an editorial under “Community View” entitled “Keep N.Y. Scaffold Laws Strong” by Mark Volpe, points out that he was a victim of a construction accident. He had been an iron worker for 25 years before a 15 foot fall ended his career and nearly took his life. He points out no level of skill could have protected him from injury when his employer didn’t provide a safety harness or proper fall protection. He landed on wooden timbers hitting his head on a 4 x 4 and suffered traumatic brain injury, post concussion syndrome, torn shoulder and hip joints and fractures of his spine & pelvis. He points out construction workers are employed in one of the most dangerous jobs. U.S. construction workers in New York are at least partially protected by the strong Scaffold Safety Laws. He points out not all contractors are concerned about safety. Many of them are more interested in cost savings or getting the job done quickly. When workers get injured, insurance companies and lawyers can keep them tied up in Court or delay justice.

This firm litigated a Labor Law case based on §240 for 7 years with four defendant law firms hired by insurance companies. A significant amount of money was spent for experts to show how they Labor Law was violated. After 7 years, and a client who was 28 years old, who fell 20 feet from the top floor of a construction of a school building because he had no place to tie off his safety harness, sustained traumatic brain injury, fractured ankle, removal of his spleen and was in a coma for two weeks, finally settled for $3.1 million. As the article of Mary Volpe points out “I was lucky enough to get my day in Court and can live without being forced to rely on public dole”.

If you or someone you know has been injured in a construction accident or a violation of Scaffold Laws, contact the law firm of Dominick J. Robustelli & Associates, PLLC at (914) 288-0800.