New York Personal Injury Attorneys

New York Scaffolding Accident Attorney

Scaffolding Law Then and Now – A Complete Guide

Every day, New York workers face the risks of falling from high places and from dangerous falling debris. Unfortunately, many deaths and injuries in construction could be prevented if more employers followed the rules and made employee safety a priority. If you or a loved one are a victim of a “gravity-related” accident– either a human fall or impact from a falling object – while on a job site, New York’s “Scaffold Law” may entitle you to compensation.

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The attorneys at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath and Cannavo P.C. make it their mission to fight on behalf of injured workers and their families to get the full compensation they deserve.

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What is New York’s Scaffold Law?

The “Scaffold Law” is a legal statute, Section 240 of the New York Labor Law. It provides that courts must hold owners, contractors, or their agents strictly responsible for injuries suffered by workers who fall or are struck by falling objects. The law simply requires that the physics of the accident involve a difference in elevation. Our team of attorneys focuses on exposing all areas of liability to prevail in these complex cases.

To better understand the modern-day implications of the law, let us explore its history, and why it is still important today.

The History of Scaffold Law

As early as 1885, skyscrapers were shaping the face of New York City and the engineering industry. In short order, new technologies met the demands of the growing skyline. The era of the skyscraper brought with it a need for new laws to protect workers suddenly facing exponentially greater dangers as they worked at higher and higher elevations. The measure created is known as the Scaffold Law.

The Scaffold Law is in place to require employers on every building site to ensure that proper safety measures protect laborers working high off the ground. Since the establishment of that law, some form of similar legislation has remained in New York law. Though repeal has been attempted multiple times and work sites are exponentially safer than at the end of the 19th century, some form of the law has remained active to protect the men and women who are working on skyscrapers.

Lobbyists Against the Scaffold Law Claim

In recent times, lobbyists have attempted to rid the books of the Scaffold Law. The group lobbying against the Scaffold Law consists of contractors, owners of Manhattan property, and experts in workplace insurance and lawsuits. They argue that the law is not only antiquated, but also has prejudicial implications for modern-day contractors. Because in the modern era many more safety measures are taken, contractors in favor of abolishing the Scaffold Law believe it removes responsibility from the individual to carry out workplace safety.

Construction companies claim that, because the law applies to anyone working at any elevation on a building, it leads to expensive workplace injury and wrongful death lawsuits that are not the fault of the businesses. The law offers a clear path to rule in favor of the injured or bereaved in legitimate cases – even if the business took some proper safety precautions. These contractors and property owners strongly believe that the Scaffold Law will contribute to bankrupting companies in the skyscraper industry, due to rising insurance premiums and multi-million dollar lawsuits. They contend that this impact could trickle down to other industries, causing a negative ripple effect in the New York economy.

Why Workers Deserve the Law

The Scaffold Law creates accountability for contractors and property owners to provide proper safety equipment that is up-to-date, operational, and properly serviced. The fear of expensive lawsuits contributes to providing an incentive for employers to implement and require extensive safety training. The lack of this accountability opens the door for cutting corners financially at the expense of safety. Not only is that an unjust outcome for workers, but it would also create a dangerous precedent for other industries, as well.

The Scaffold Law and Working Minorities

The New York Times reported a study done by the federal safety regulators in recent years. It stated that in New York alone, 136 individuals lost their lives in fatal falls on construction sites between 2003 and 2011. Most of those tragic accidents occurred in New York City, and of the fatal falls that happened there, 88% of the lives lost were minorities. Many of these minority Americans were not fluent English speakers. The advocates of the Scaffold Law believe that, because non-native English speakers have trouble communicating with their employers, they are less able to report dangerous working conditions. In addition, they are statistically more likely to work for non-union companies that have fewer safety incentives in general. The Scaffold Law protects vulnerable people and helps achieve just outcomes when they experience an injury.

The Scaffold Law imposes liability on employers for safety failures

There are many different ways employers fail to safeguard their laborers in violation of the Scaffold Law. Sometimes, these failures are routine and obvious. At other times, unsafe conditions are subtle or even willfully concealed. However, whenever a failure to provide proper protection results in a fall injury, the worker has a right to recover. Certain devices must be in place and working properly, depending on the labor being done. These may include the following:

  • scaffolding
  • hoists
  • stays
  • ladders
  • slings
  • hangers
  • blocks
  • pulleys
  • braces
  • irons
  • ropes

Workers may not be aware of these failures even after getting hurt. Just because a worker never used or even saw a particular safety device on the job doesn’t mean that protection wasn’t supposed to be there. Similarly, just because a device was there doesn’t mean it was in proper operation.

The Scaffold Law covers various types of jobs

Even if your injury did not occur at a typical construction site, you may still have a claim. The Scaffold Law covers more than just work on buildings. It also encompasses work involving “structures.” If you suffered an injury from a fall or falling debris while doing roadwork, landscaping, plumbing, delivery work, inspection work, or any other type of job, the right legal argument could make all the difference. The Scaffold Law covers all of the following job types involving a building or a structure:

  • erection
  • demolition
  • repairing
  • altering
  • painting
  • cleaning
  • pointing

Common Causes of Scaffolding Accidents

Falls from scaffolding are one of the most common accidents on a construction site. According to the New York City Department of Health (DOH), fatality rates in the construction industry are more than five times higher than in all other fields. And even though the average total number of workplace fatalities is lower in New York City than in the rest of the country, New York construction fatalities still outpace the national average.

Regardless of how they happen, most scaffolding accidents can be avoided by taking the safety precautions workers are entitled to.  Some common preventable causes of scaffolding accidents that may support a claim include:

  • Loose footing
  • Lack of guardrails or toe boards
  • Uprights are not plumb
  • Insecure lifelines, anchorages, fastenings, tie-ins, or  tie-backs
  • Improper structural materials or dimensions
  • Overloading weight or exceeding the capacity
  • Insufficient support devices
  • Slip, trip, or fall from scaffolding
  • Scaffolding collapse
  • Falling objects

Common Injuries in Scaffolding Accidents

Scaffolding structures enable construction workers to reach towering heights. Naturally, falls from great heights often result in catastrophic injuries. Common injuries from scaffolding accidents include the following:

Exceptions to the Law

The law does come with a few restrictions. According to Section 240 of the New York Labor Law, the law does not apply to:

  • “Owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work.”
  • Injuries that are not caused by gravity, either a falling object or the worker falling themselves.
  • Accidents that do not occur under the scope of construction. Even if it was gravity related, the accident occurs during one of the aforementioned situations.
  • Willful injury on behalf of the worker, willingly jumping from a ladder for example.
  • When the worker is the sole proximate cause of the accident, for example, willingly jumping off a ladder.
  • When the worker fails to follow specific safety instructions that, if followed, would have prevented the accident, otherwise known as the “recalcitrant worker” defense

Past Verdicts & Settlements in Scaffolding Accident Cases

  • Defective Scaffolding – $25.1 Million Verdict – Our client was in the process of assisting in the dismantling of a scaffold when the scaffold began to collapse, causing him to jump and to suffer serious head injuries. We proved that our client was supplied with an unsafe scaffold and that he was improperly instructed as to how to dismantle it.
  • Scaffold Collapse – $4.5 Million Recovered – A 24-year-old construction laborer was seriously injured when a scaffold collapsed on him, resulting in vision and hearing loss.
  • Fall from Scaffold – $1 Million Recovered – A 47-year-old construction worker fell from a Scaffold and suffered a fracture to his arm and elbow that required surgery to repair.
  • Unsecured Scaffold – $1.2 Million Recovered – A 58-year-old painter fell from an unsecured scaffold, resulting in traumatic brain injury, nasal fracture, and neck and back injuries.

Read about more results obtained by our firm on behalf of construction accident victims.

An Experienced Team of Scaffolding Accident Lawyers on Your Side

When tragedy strikes and a person is injured, it becomes an important question of whether a violation has occurred. The law states that the contractor or owner is liable for failure to adhere to the terms. There is no mention of the responsibility falling to the employee in the Scaffold Law.

However, construction accidents can be highly complex. It is in your best interests to work with an experienced New York scaffolding accident lawyer who has a successful track record handling cases like yours. At Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo, P.C., we have extensive experience handling construction site accident claims. We know how to approach liability investigations and have a vast range of resources at our disposal. Contact our firm today for a free consultation to learn more.