Policy Issues

SCAFFOLD LAW

ISSUE

New York State “Scaffold Law” renders property owners, general contractors “absolutely liable” for workers’ height-related injuries from construction, renovation, cleaning projects. Workers’ self-inflicted negligence not relevant under Scaffold Law.  In contrast, all other states use “comparative negligence” to proportionately reduce court damages where worker partially causes own injuries.

New York is the only state that still subjects property owners to an “absolute liability” standard – without regard to any worker negligence –for tort claims arising from gravity related injuries that can occur during building construction, cleaning, demolition, and painting. Scaffold Law’s absolute injury standard drives up liability insurance premiums for New York projects.

Position

Advocates seeking Scaffold Law reform argue that the 19th century law is outdated, due to workers compensation regimes that redress an injured work’s health expenses and lost wages.

The Real Estate Roundtable, Associated General Contractors, and 16 U.S. organizations representing the contracting, insurance and real estate sectors urged the House Judiciary Committee and key congressional offices to swiftly pass the Infrastructure Expansion Act of 2017 (H.R. 3808), sponsored by Rep. John Faso (R-NY).  (Coalition Letter, Jan. 19)

H.R. 3808 is a common sense tort reform effort aimed at providing a 21st century solution to ameliorate the harsh impact of an outdated 19th century law, which is restraining modern interstate commerce and economically burdening transportation projects that cross state lines.

Background


The Scaffold Law was passed during the Industrial Revolution – long before the advent of Federal and state Occupational Safety and Health Administration and workers' compensation laws – the Law holds property owners, employers, and contractors fully liable for all fall-related injuries at building and infrastructure construction sites. 

As a result, courts have interpreted the New York law to subject property owners and contractors to "absolute liability."  Under this standard, the costs of injuries from commonplace painting, cleaning, remodeling, and construction activities are completely borne by property owners and contractors, even if they do not directly employ the injured worker.  The Scaffold Law also deems property owners and contractors as absolutely liable for height-related incidents, without regard to whether the worker caused the accident and intensified his or her own injuries.  Under this standard, even an inebriated worker who stumbles and falls at a project site is not held accountable to the extent his intoxicated state caused his own injuries.  (Roundtable Weekly, Oct. 27, 2017) 

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