One of the biggest culprits for construction injuries is gravity. Falls are a major source of severe injury and death, but being struck by falling objects or collapsing structures is another major contributor.
Workers’ compensation is the primary recovery system after any workplace injuries. However, New York state law is different in that it applies strict liability to employers, contract awarders, and property owners for nearly all accidents involving gravity. This protection is referred to commonly as New York’s “Scaffold Law,” and it can be found in the New York Labor Laws § 240.
If you have been hurt as a result of a fall or other gravity-inflicted injury while at work and have specific questions about who may be liable, speak to an experienced New York construction accident lawyer during a free, no-obligation case review. Call (212) 741-3800 or contact us online to schedule your free appointment now.
What Is New York Labor Law § 240, AKA the Scaffolding Law?
New York Labor Law § 240 makes a number of statutory requirements regarding the safety of all construction activities taking place upon “buildings.” Since New York law legally defines many structures as “buildings” – including bridges, tunnels, garages, large boats, and more – Labor Law § 240 broadly many situations.
The most relevant passage of Labor Law § 240 for injury claims is found in Article 1:
“All contractors and owners and their agents, except owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work, in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure shall furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection to a person so employed.”
New York courts have broadly interpreted these instructions to encompass a wide variety of situations. For any incident that falls under this law, the primary contractors, project owner, or property owner may be held strictly liable for any injuries and their costs.
Since the legal language of statutory law can be a bit difficult to parse, here are the most important details listed in the above text:
- All workers are entitled to a safe workspace with “proper protection” from falls and falling hazards
- Construction activities described in the statute cover a broad scope, including “erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure”
- Mentioning “all contractors and owners and their agents” assigns a broad duty of care to nearly everyone involved in the project and if anyone fails in this duty, they could be held liable
- According to the interpretation of many court cases, such as Haimes v. New York Telephone Co., 46 NY2d 132, 136 , any failure to protect a worker from a fall or falling hazard can mean a breach in the duty of care for “all contractors and owners and their agents,” meaning the injured plaintiff does not necessarily have to prove any other negligence nor foreknowledge of a safety risk
So, in sum, New York Labor Law § 240 does a lot of the heavy lifting, so to speak, for injury victims trying to prove liability. They don’t have to prove that the contractor or property owner was negligent for any specific reason; they only have to establish that a fall occurred.
Because of this legal interpretation, it is vital for all construction employees to evaluate whether Labor Law § 240 could affect their injury case.
How Labor Law § 240 Could Affect an Injury Claim
If a construction injury involved gravity in some way, chances are that New York Labor Law § 240 could have some bearing on the resulting claim or lawsuit.
Some criteria to consider includes:
- An injury occurred at a construction site on an applicable building or structure (one and two-family dwellings are excluded)
- The injury victim was working at the site in question (hurt pedestrians are not protected by Labor Law § 240)
- The injury involved a failure of “scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices,” to provide the expected level of safety
- The injury victim has financial and non-financial damages for which they would like to seek recovery
The key feature of New York’s Scaffold Law is that it has been interpreted to enforce strict liability upon those who organize the project or own the property. This is critical because in many other circumstances, suing a property owner or general contractor can be quite difficult. The injury victim would normally have to prove that the defending party not only violated some duty of care but also that the violation was unreasonable or egregious, that the party could have reasonably foreseen the safety risk, and that the party neglected to engage in safe practices that would have mitigated the risk.
For example, if a water main burst on a job site, injuring a worker, the building owner may allege that there was no reasonable way for them to predict the breach. They may also argue that their general safety record indicates that they were not negligent or reckless to an extent that would make them clearly liable.
However, if the same worker was injured because of a fall, all the worker has to prove is that the fall occurred. Based on this fact, most courts (and, thereby, insurance companies) will assume that the scaffolding or other safety feature failed to provide the statutorily-mandated level of safety.
Another benefit of strict liability is that the role of the employee or third parties in causing the injury may be irrelevant. The primary liable party is usually required to pay 100% of damages, in many cases where the plaintiff is able to make a successful recovery claim. This is critical because in other states without such protections, the defendant can allege that the worker’s own carelessness or disregard for safety practices partially led to the accident.
Does New York’s Scaffold Law Affect Workers’ Compensation?
Injured workers are still eligible to file workers’ compensation even if they engage in a separate third-party claim related to New York Labor Law § 240.
Unlike a workers’ comp claim, a scaffold-law-related claim can cover additional damages. For example, pain and suffering damages can be nonexistent or severely limited in most workers’ compensation settlements. But a § 240-related claim could potentially secure compensation for both past and future pain and suffering.
Another important factor is that many workers’ compensation policies can fail to pay for the full extent of damages, which include both medical treatment and lost wages. Pursuing a third-party claim against a non-employer can afford the injury victim with more resources, giving them a higher chance of making a full financial and medical recovery after their accident.
See If New York’s Scaffolding Law Applies to Your Injury
The Weinstein Law Group is an experienced New York injury law firm with an extensive history representing victims of construction accidents. If you have been hurt on the job and think improper fall protections or falling hazard protections are to blame, you could have grounds to pursue a claim under New York Labor Law § 240.
Having your case covered by Labor Law § 240 does not guarantee success. However, it can mean your case will require a lot less in terms of provings, evidence, and minimum standards during the insurance claims process or trial litigation.
Speak to an experienced New York construction accident lawyer near you for free to learn more about your legal rights and options after your injury. Call (212) 741-3800 or contact us online to schedule a free case review now.
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