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Understanding New York’s ‘Scaffold Law’ and Its Impact on Personal Injury Claims

October 06, 2023

Understanding New York's 'Scaffold Law' and Its Impact on Personal Injury Claims

In the bustling heart of New York, construction sites are as common as yellow cabs. With towering skyscrapers and ever-evolving infrastructure, the safety of construction workers becomes paramount. To address this, New York has the Labor Law Section 240, colloquially known as the “Scaffold Law”. While it sounds specific, its implications for personal injury claims are vast. Dive with us into an exploration of this crucial law and its bearing on personal injury suits.

A Brief Overview of the Scaffold Law

Originating in the late 19th century, the Scaffold Law has a rich history. At its core, the law was designed to protect workers from height-related risks inherent in construction, demolition, and repair work. In essence, it requires employers and property owners (excluding most homeowners) to provide safety equipment to workers. If this equipment is absent, improperly placed, or defective, and causes a fall or injury due to a falling object, then the responsible parties can be held strictly liable.

What Does ‘Strict Liability’ Mean?

‘Strict liability’ is a cornerstone of the Scaffold Law. Unlike other personal injury cases, proving negligence isn’t a necessity. If a worker’s injury falls within the purview of the law, then the employer or property owner is automatically held liable. The emphasis is on the violation of safety provisions, rather than delving deep into the nuances of negligence.

Key Provisions of the Scaffold Law

These are:

  • Absolute Liability: The law imposes an absolute liability on contractors, owners, and their agents for any gravity-related injury suffered by a worker, unless the worker is solely responsible for the accident.
  • Safety Equipment Requirement: Employers are mandated to furnish, erect, or equip scaffolds, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices to ensure the safety of workers when they work at elevated heights.
  • Protection Against Falling: One of the primary protections provided by the law is against “elevation-related risks”. This means that employers are responsible for ensuring that workers are protected from falling from heights or being hit by falling objects.
  • Proper Construction and Maintenance: The devices and equipment provided should not only be available but should be constructed, placed, and operated in such a manner as to provide proper protection for workers. This means that it’s not just about having safety equipment; it has to be in good working order and used correctly.
  • Liability Beyond Workers’ Compensation: While workers can avail workers’ compensation for injuries sustained at work, the Scaffold Law also gives them the right to sue for damages if their injury resulted from a violation of the law. This can be in addition to any workers’ compensation benefits they might receive.
  • Exclusion for Certain Property Owners: The law generally does not hold owners of one and two-family dwellings liable unless they have directed or controlled the work being done.

Scaffold Law in Personal Injury Claims

When a construction worker is injured due to a fall or falling object, understanding the Scaffold Law becomes pivotal in personal injury claims:

  • Strict Liability: Unlike many other personal injury claims where the injured party must prove negligence on the part of the defendant, the Scaffold Law imposes strict liability on contractors and property owners. This means that if a worker’s injury falls within the purview of the law, the contractor or owner is automatically held liable, barring instances where the worker’s negligence was the sole cause of the injury.
  • Compensation Beyond Workers’ Comp: Typically, a worker injured on the job would receive workers’ compensation. However, the Scaffold Law permits injured workers to bring a lawsuit against the property owner or general contractor for additional damages. This is particularly significant since workers’ compensation often doesn’t cover the full extent of lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering.
  • Bearing the Burden of Safety: The law makes it clear that property owners and contractors are responsible for ensuring safety equipment is provided and properly maintained. If an injury occurs due to a violation of this provision, it bolsters the personal injury claim.
  • Defenses Are Limited: Under the Scaffold Law, the typical defenses available in other personal injury claims are significantly limited. An employer cannot argue comparative negligence (that the worker was partially at fault) unless they can prove the worker was solely responsible for their injuries.
  • Potential for Significant Compensation: Given the strict liability nature of the Scaffold Law, personal injury claims under this statute can result in substantial compensation for injured workers. Damages can encompass medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and potentially more.
  • Claims Against Third Parties: Besides employers, workers can also bring claims against third parties like equipment manufacturers if it can be proven that the equipment was defective and led to the injury.
  • Impact on Settlement Negotiations: The strict liability element of the Scaffold Law can significantly influence settlement negotiations. Knowing that they may be automatically held liable, contractors and property owners (and their insurance providers) might be more inclined to settle out of court.

Critics & Supporters

The Scaffold Law has its fair share of supporters and critics. Supporters laud its strict liability stance as a deterrent, ensuring employers prioritize worker safety. Critics, however, argue that it increases construction costs and can sometimes reward negligent workers. It’s crucial to note that while employers can’t escape liability due to a worker’s contributory negligence, they can if they prove the worker’s sole negligence caused the injury.

Navigating Claims with Expertise

Pursuing a claim under the Scaffold Law requires meticulous understanding and experience. Given its intricacies and potential for substantial compensation, having expert legal representation is invaluable.

At Marvin A. Cooper, P.C., we have decades of experience in personal injury litigation, including numerous cases under the Scaffold Law. We can navigate the complexities, ensuring injured workers understand their rights and receive the compensation they deserve.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer at Marvin A. Cooper, P.C  for a Free Consultation About Your Case Today

New York’s Scaffold Law is a testament to the state’s commitment to ensuring the safety of its construction workers. While it carries historical weight, its relevance today is undeniable. It provides an added layer of protection to workers in an industry fraught with risk.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury on a construction site, it’s vital to understand how the Scaffold Law might apply to your situation. Reach out to the seasoned professionals at Marvin A. Cooper, P.C. for comprehensive guidance and representation. Your safety and rights deserve nothing less than expertise.

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