Nicoletti, Gonson, Spinner, LLP

Efforts to Revise New York’s Scaffold Law Gain Momentum

Pressure is mounting on the New York State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo to revise New York Labor Law § 240, commonly known as the Scaffold Law. The Scaffold Law imposes strict liability on an owner or contractor for almost any type of elevation related injury, regardless of whether or not the employee might be at fault. This law is unique to New York. In most other states, workers who are injured on the job are unable to sue their employers for their injuries, and are limited to recovering the amount provided by their state’s worker’s compensation statutes.

Legislation revising the Scaffold Law has been sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle and Senator Patrick Gallivan. The proposal would apply a comparative negligence standard, as opposed to a strict liability standard, with respect to actions for personal injury, property damage or wrongful death arising under New York Labor Law § 240. Advocates for reform assembled at the State Capital in Albany on February 12, 2013, which supporters dubbed Scaffold Law Reform Advocacy Day, to meet with elected officials and to voice their support for reforming the Scaffold Law.

Those in favor of the law being revised cite the upcoming construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge. It is estimated that the insurance bill for this project could be as high as $400 million, with approximately half that amount being due to the strict liability imposed by the Scaffold Law. The Scaffold Law is also expected to add tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to the $1.5 billion project to replace the Goethals Bridge, which connects Staten Island to New Jersey. Additionally, the Real Estate Board of New York has found that construction insurance now accounts for nearly 12% of total building costs. Not everyone, however, supports revising the Scaffold Law. Labor unions and plaintiff’s lawyers are among the Scaffold Law’s biggest supporters. Both groups believe that the law is necessary to protect workers, and that contractors and owners have nothing to fear if they are keeping their work sites safe.