The Let NY Work agenda, aimed at providing our State Legislature and the Governor with actual remedies to some of the government mandates that are driving up costs to New York State property tax payers, has identified a number of mandates that, if reformed, could signficantly reduce the costs of public construction projects across the state. One such remedy is to REVISE New York State Labor Law 240/241, which has become known as the “Scaffold Law” here in New York. New York State has the dubious distinction of being the ONLY state in the entire country that still applies ABSOLUTE LIABILITY on an employer when an employee is injured either from a fall from a height or from a falling object. In plain English, New York places 100% of the responsibility for the safety of workers in the workplace on an employer and 0% of the responsibility on the workers themselves. As an employer in the construction industry, I can do everything within my power to make my workplace safe, I can provide all the proper safety equipment and training to each and every one of my workers, and even if I do all that, I can still be held liable for an accident in my workplace that was the direct result of a worker NOT using the safety equipment I provided and appropriately trained them to use to avoid an accident or injury. That employee, who ignored my safety rules and procedures, can sue me for lost wages, pain and suffering, etc. (on top of the workers comp benefits they would be entitled to because they are injured “on the job”) and under the current law, I would be totally defenseless in the lawsuit. I am guilty before I even have an opportunity to prove that the accident/injury was a result of negligence, not on my part as the employer, but on the part of my employee who did not follow my safety policies and procedures as required. Unbelievable, right? You bet it is.
Not only is it unbelievable, it’s downright costly. The cost of liability insurance for contractors here in New York is, in some cases, 10 times the cost for contractors in other states that apply a “negligence standard” instead of absolute liability in their labor law. And on public construction projects, that increased cost is being passed on to the taxpayers, to the tune of millions of dollars each and every year. It’s time to fix this problem, and the solution is really quite simple. Replace the current absolute liability standard with a negligence standard. In other words, change the current law to not make the employer 100% responsible when there is a workplace injury as a result of a worker falling from a height, but instead to determine whether the fall and resulting injury was a result of the negligence of the employer OR the injured employee and hold the one responsible liable. This still allows for an injured worker, who is injured as a result of negligence on the part of his/her employer to hold that employer liable. But it also allows for the employee to be held liable if he/she ignored company safety policies, didn’t use company provided safety equipment as trained and directed to do, and therefore is responsible for his/her own injury. Makes total sense, doesn’t it?
Elimination of the Scaffold Law’s absolute liability standard and the implementation of a comparative negligence standard, in which a worker’s own negligence, intoxication, or refusal to use safety equipment may be admitted as evidence in court, will reduce the burden on the state and its taxpayers. In addition, it will ultimately improve workplace safety and will stimulate job creation. Assemblyman Joe Morelle from the Rochester area has sponsored a bill (A. 2835) to achieve this long overdue revision. Pure and simple, it allows for a comparative negligence standard to be used for lawsuits brought against employers/owners under Labor Law section 240/241 – a court would be required to determine where the negligence occurred and apply the liability accordingly. This bill is currently pending in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, and we the taxpayers across New York State need to demand that our state legislators enact it into law immediately. To learn more about this issue and the impact the current law has on the costs of construction in New York State, visit www.scaffoldlawreform.org.