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A recent study published jointly by the Cornell University Department of Policy Analysis & Management and SUNY's Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government might have a huge, anti-worker impact on the way construction accidents in New York City may be litigated. A hotly-debated New York State's Labor Law 240, also known as the Scaffold Law, is under fire by opponents of the law, attempting to show the deleterious effects the law has on both the local construction industry and economy.
The Scaffold Law was originally passed on May 22, 1885, and, after many amendments, the law was broadened and determined that the employer had an "absolute duty" to provide safe scaffolding equipment, and may be strictly liable for any injury that resulted from the use of the scaffolding equipment. This means that 100 percent of the responsibility for the accident rests with the construction company and employer. 

Contributory negligence, which holds that it is possible to hold the victim partially responsible for his injury, was barred as an affirmative defense in 1948. New York, as of 1995, is currently the only state in the country to retain this strict liability standard for any work-related injury from a height.

Findings of the Study

The study purports that the Labor Law 240, controlling for a variety of variables, correlates with a higher worker non-fatal injury rate than states that do not have a similar law in force. When comparing Illinois (before and after the repeal of a similar labor law) and New York, it was demonstrated that for non-fatal injuries, Illinois (before repeal) had 2.7 non-fatal injuries per 100 private construction workers more than New York, but, after repeal, Illinois had 0.7 non-fatal injuries less than New York. In other terms, on average, New York has 667 more construction accidents per year than Illinois.

The study also attempts to show that, of the limited empirical data, the public sector spends almost $800 million on insurance costs and legal fees in the construction industry. The private sector spending on insurance costs can be estimated at $1.5 billion dollars.

Finally, with a specific focus on claims arising out of Labor Law 240, over $110 million a year is spent on insurance claims and legal and administrative fees. Overall, it is estimated that in total, public and private costs related to claims arising out of the Scaffold Law range from $2.92 billion to $3.01 billion dollars.

Pro-Worker Advocates' Reaction to the Study

Though the study might be able to garner support to eradicate Labor Law 240, there are still powerful, pro-worker advocates interested in keeping the existing law as is. Advocates of the Labor Law 240 strongly believe in strict liability to be applied to construction owners or the contractor because these individuals are in the best position, as leaders of the project, to know how to best prevent catastrophic injuries, and are responsible for the safeguards to be put in place.

In addition, though the law's opponents may state that workers who are injured or killed because of their own negligence would end up collecting against the company, this is not always true. The law is specifically written so that in order to bring a claim, the injured worker has to show that the necessary safety protections were not in place, and that he/she did not receive the injury due to negligence or refusing to follow proper safety regulations put in place. It is not enough that a worker has suffered a gravity-related injury while at the construction site, but he/she must show that the injuries were the direct result of the owner's failure to provide the appropriate safeguards and protections against this type of risk.

NYC Construction Accident Attorneys

If you or a loved one has been injured while working on a construction site, our experienced Construction accident attorneys at Keogh Crispi, P.C., serving the New York City area, are available to support and guide you through the legal process, and help you receive remuneration for any injuries sustained while working on a job site. Feel free to contact us by sending us a message online or by calling us at 212-818-0600 for more information.

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