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New York's Scaffold Law impacts the construction industry

New York is a unique state with many unusual laws. But one point of uniqueness, Labor Law 240, is the subject of much controversy.

This law, which is also known as the Scaffold Law, places absolute liability on construction employers and property owners when a worker is injured in a gravity-related accident (fall from elevation). While the law is meant to protect workers, some say it reduces construction jobs and inhibits safety reforms. Is it time to reform Labor Law 240?

Absolute liability

New York's Scaffold Law is the only one like it in the entire country. (Illinois repealed a similiar law in 1995.) The current law in New York has been in effect since before the current workers' compensation law was put in place. Prior to the workers' compensation program, workers needed a way to ensure they could be compensated for serious injuries, such as falls from scaffolds, ladders and roofs.

The doctrine of absolute liability in this law means that no matter how an elevation-related accident happened at the construction site, the employer and property owner can still be held liable. A worker who shows up for work drunk and falls could still conceivably file a claim.

What's the issue?

Even though this law seems good for workers, detractors argue that this is not the case. The law does not address the need for improved safety. Instead, it just makes it easier to seek monetary compensation. Workers need a more comprehensive safety program in place at their job sites, but there is less incentive to make improvements when contractors and building owners are liable even if they are safety-conscious.

The cost of the Scaffold Law is another concern often raised by opponents. Industry groups suggest that Labor Law 240 adds as much as $10,000 to the total cost of erecting a new home. This has a negative impact on the construction industry, which can ultimately hurt construction workers and subcontractors in the form of layoffs, less hiring and competition for construction jobs.

Worker safety

Everyone agrees that safety for construction workers is important and should be improved. Instead of focusing on how they are going to cover the cost of the necessary insurance, the argument goes, employers could spend that money on worker safety. Training programs can help to decrease construction accidents.

When workers are injured at a construction site, they have the option of seeking workers' compensation coverage or filing a lawsuit. The circumstances of the injury impacts which options the worker might exercise. One thing is certain -- workers need to learn their rights if they are injured to protect their health and their livelihood. In the event of a scaffolding accident or ladder injury, contact a personal injury lawyer who is experienced in Labor Law 240 and the construction industry.

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