New York State Labor Law § 240/241 was one of the first labor laws enacted in the United States. It predates the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Workers Compensation Programs. It was enacted in 1885, and despite lobbying to repeal it, has survived to this day. A similar law in Illinois was repealed in 2013. There is even a website scaffoldlaw.com, dedicated to “Scaffold Law Reform,” with scurrilous claims that the laws actually makes worksites “less safe.” Why is a law that protects injured construction workers so controversial?
So, you must be wondering now, what’s the big deal about this Scaffold Law? What makes it so terrifying to builders? First off, it operates as an “exception” to the Worker’s Compensation Law, as it imposes “strict liability” on an employer when an employee is injured due to a “gravity-related” fall when they are working at “high elevations” without the use of proper safety gear. This means that even if it’s the worker’s own fault that he did use the proper gear, the employee is liable. All the worker has to do is fall and get injured. This protects injured construction workers that might only have a claim for Workers Compensation without this law.
The law applies not only to high rise construction, but also to any worker using a ladder or any other device that causes them to be elevated. It also covers workers that are hit by falling objects. The work must be on a “structure,” but this has been loosely interpreted to apply to rail cars, boats, subways, water towers, garages and bridges. Since a tree is not a manmade “structure,” falling from a tree would not apply. The law applies only to construction work, so a worker on a film set hanging lights would not receive its protection.
The Scaffold Law applies to these specific types of construction jobs:
- “Pointing” a building
Case law has specifically rejected certain categories of claims. Where the work is either “decorative” or “maintenance related,” the Scaffold Law does not apply. Manufacturing work is also excluded. Some examples of when the law would NOT apply are:
- Hanging Pictures
- Cleaning by a housekeeper
- Changing light bulbs
- Salvage work
- Changing air conditioning filters
- Installing window treatments
The Scaffold Law requires that the injury actually is caused by the “force of gravity.” The courts rejected a claim by a worker that pulled his back while working at a high elevation due to his awkward position in a harness chair. The court ruled that the injury could have just as easily happened on the ground, and was not caused by the “force of gravity.” Another requirement is that the fall must be caused by the failure of a device such as a scaffold, hoist, pulley or ladder. If a worker drops his water bottle on another worker’s head, that would not invoke the Scaffold Law.
Critics argue that the Scaffolding Law increases the cost of construction, as employers have to pay out on these claims even if it’s “not their fault.” Advocates of public safety support the law because it encourages a safer work environment for vulnerable worker’s and forces employers to not only provide safety equipment, but also to make sure that is actually being used.
Claims under the Scaffolding Law are one of many claims, in addition to Workers Compensation, that can be brought on behalf on Construction Workers that are injured on the job. Other claims include the negligence of third parties such as contractors, subcontractors, and vendors, plus product liability claims against manufacturers of equipment used on a work site. All of these potential claims must be thoroughly investigated and explored. One thing is clear, if you are an injured Construction Worker, you need a law firm with decades of experience handling Construction Accident Cases so that no stone is left unturned in getting you the highest amount of compensation possible.
Wittenstein & Wittenstein has been handling construction accident cases for generations. We can provide you with the excellent representation that you deserve. Please feel free to contact us for a free consultation at 718-261-8114. For more information, see our articles and blogs on Construction Accidents.