New York’s Controversial Construction Law Faces Legislative Challenge

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Construction work can be a rewarding, but dangerous, career. Accidents happen, but many laws are put in place to provide workers with safeguards. One such law is New York's controversial Scaffolding Law. This law holds employers and property owners strictly liable when construction workers are injured from a fall while working on elevated scaffolding.

There are many devastating stories of workers injured or killed in these accidents. One recent story involves a New York man who was killed on his first day on the job when he fell over the scaffolding railing. After an investigation the company was cited for violations of various laws, including labor and OSHA standards.

The Scaffolding Law is a labor law that plays an important role in preserving the safety of construction workers, as falls are the leading cause of death on construction sites. However, some argue that this law goes too far.

A group of state law makers are joining tort reform advocates in calling for a revamp of this controversial scaffolding law. Proponents of the amendments argue that the current law makes New York one of the "most adverse environments in the nation for creating jobs, retaining jobs or attracting jobs." Senator Patrick M. Gallivan, who sponsors the bill, stated that elimination of the "burdensome Scaffold Law" would help remove the "red tape that deters private sector growth and investment."

Comparison of New York's Current Scaffolding Law and Proposed Changes

New York is the only state in the country with a law imposing absolute liability on employers and property owners in scaffolding related accidents. The law requires that employers and owners provide "proper protection" to a person employed to work on scaffolding.

The proposed legislation would remove the absolute liability language and instead hold employees liable for the accident, a system referred to as a comparative negligence. This system results in a reduction in the amount of compensation received by an injured party to cover medical and rehabilitative expenses based on the level of negligence assigned to the employee.

The bill applies the comparative negligence standard to conduct by the employee that relates to:

• Criminal conduct

• Use of drugs or alcohol

• Failure of the employee to use safety devices furnished at the job site

• Failure to comply with employer instructions

• Failure of the employee to comply with safety protocol

Proponents of the bill argue that the employee who acts negligently should be held accountable. Those opposed to the changes argue that the current Scaffold Law protects workers and provides an incentive for employers to maintain a safe work environment.

They also counter that it is appropriate for New York to be the only state to have this type of law. New York State is home to one of the most distinctive cities in the world: New York City. This city is referred to as the skyscraper capital of the United States and offers a unique set of challenges for construction workers. As a result, the use of a law that is not present in any other state should not be seen as unusual and unfair, but as a needed safety precaution for a unique city. Opponents continue their argument by stating that the amendments would put "profit before safety."

In addition, removal of the law may prompt companies to cut corners. In the current economy, profits are often hard to come by. Contractors and property owners may view removal of the law as an opportunity to reduce costs. Removing the protections of the Scaffolding Law may result in contractors and owners cutting safety corners and remove the availability for injured workers to receive compensation to cover the cost of their injuries.

Ways Bill Would Impact Construction Worker's Personal Injury Claims

If the bill is passed, it will greatly change the personal injury system for scaffolding related construction accidents. Victims would no longer receive full compensation, but may receive a reduced amount based on the comparative negligence system. If an employer can establish that the employee was somehow responsible for the accident their compensation will be reduced or even eliminated.

Although reduction or elimination may occur with conduct as extreme as working while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it also covers smaller violations. For example, if an employer can establish that the employee was not following exact company protocol when operating the scaffold, the employee may be found partly liable for the accident and receive a reduction in compensation.

Scaffolding accident injuries are often severe and require significant medical intervention as well as potential long-term rehabilitation. Both medical and rehabilitative costs can add up quickly, making a reduction in compensation potentially devastating to a victim of a scaffolding accident.

Although the bill is being considered, it is important to note that this will be the fifth year in a row that the bill will be introduced. The proposal never made it to a vote in either chamber of the legislature the previous four years and may be denied again this year.


The outcome of this debate will have an enormous impact on victims of scaffolding accidents. If you or a loved one is injured in a scaffolding related accident, it is more important than ever to contact an experienced New York scaffolding injury attorney to better ensure that your legal rights and remedies are protected.