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The New York Scaffold Law: What You Need To Know

If you've been injured in an accident or on the job, the attorneys of Hach & Rose, LLP have the knowledge, skills, and experience required to hold the party responsible for your injury accountable.

Last Updated: 09-14-2023

What is the New York Scaffold Law?

New York Labor Law Section 240 is known as “The Scaffold Law.” It places absolute liability upon Owners or General Contractors who do not comply with the statute’s protection. The intent behind the law is to place ultimate responsibility for safety practices at construction sites upon the owners and general contractors instead of the workers who are not in a position to protect themselves. Specifically, section 240 of the New York Labor Law holds that an Owners and General Contractor are responsible by law if there is a gravity-related accident and resulting injury. This means if a worker falls from a height, or if an object falls from a height that strikes a worker below, that worker can recover against the Property Owner and General Contractor. When a violation of the law occurs, in addition to a workers’ compensation claim, an injured worker can bring a lawsuit directly against the Property Owner and General Contractor for all related personal injuries and economic damages.

The New York Scaffold Law was implemented to protect workers from gravity-related risks. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has reported an average of 80 deaths and 4,500 injuries caused by scaffolding falls each year, demonstrating this law’s necessity. OSHA also reports the top four fatal accidents in the U.S. construction industry, known as the “fatal four.” Not surprisingly, falls are hugely in the lead.

The Fatal Four

  • Falls (36.5%)
  • Struck by an object (10.1%)
  • Electrocutions (8.6%)
  • Caught-in or caught-between (caught or crushed by equipment, structures, or materials) (2.5%)

Labor Law section 240 applies only to “gravity-related accidents”, which is broadly defined as injuries related to any injury caused by a fall that involves an elevation change, or an injury caused by a falling object that was improperly hoisted or secured. Generally, this law applies to all New York construction with the small exception of one-family and two-family homes that have no commercial purpose and where the Owner does not participate in the control of the construction.

Finally, the New York Scaffold Law also outlines the specific types of construction activities that the law applies to.

Below is the list of construction activities that this law applies to:

  • Erection of a building or other applicable structure
  • Demolition of a building or other applicable structure
  • Repairing, altering, painting, or cleaning a building or other applicable structure
  • Pointing to a building
  • Erection of scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, or related types of equipment

When wondering whether the Scaffold Law will cover your injury, the first question that needs to be answered is whether the incident involved gravity. If it didn’t, the New York Scaffold Law will not apply, and you will need to pursue other avenues to cover your claim. Because of the strict liability placed on Owners and General Contractors, they have limited defenses. All that needs to be proven for a successful claim are: (1) the entity was the Owner or General Contractor of the construction project; (2) the activity that produced the injury was covered; and (3) your injury was caused by gravity. If these factors are established, the only defense available to the Owner and General Contractor is to prove that you were provided with proper safety devices and with safety instructions and that your accident was only caused by your intentional disregard for safety devices and instructions (known as the “worker recalcitrant” defense). This is an extremely difficult defense to prove, as the worker’s actions are not otherwise considered in evaluating statutory liability.

The New York Scaffold Law is Limited in What it Covers

However, this doesn’t mean all claims under Labor Law section 240 are simple to establish. The New York Scaffold Law is deliberately written to be very specific about what it covers, and the courts are strict about its interpretation. Because this law allows injured workers to recover more than they would in a normal workers’ compensation case, the courts must be strict about what cases fall under it. The law also only applies to workers within the construction industry and does not apply to those individuals who are performing routine maintenance, manufacturing, or decorative work on a structure. Therefore, this law would not apply to any injured pedestrians, passing car drivers, or others who may be injured when simply walking near or past a construction site. Those not in the construction industry will need to file a personal injury lawsuit and cannot file a claim under the New York Scaffold Law.

What do construction workers need to know about the New York Scaffold Law?

Construction workers need to know that the New York Scaffold Law ensures you have sufficient safety equipment to perform your job safely. If the Owner, the General Contractor, or your employer is taking any risks when it comes to gravity-related work, you are allowed to refuse to work in an unsafe manner and request better safety practices and proper safety devices. The New York Scaffold Law requires employers to go above and beyond to provide the most appropriate safety device for the required task, not just provide the bare minimum when it comes to gravity-related safety.

Below are some examples of important safety practices that should be employed at every construction project:

  • Any scaffolding placed 20 or more feet above the ground must be fitted with a safety railing that is a minimum of 34 inches in height. The railing must also be securely fastened to the scaffold and fitted along the full length of the scaffold, not stopping a few feet from either end. Additionally, the scaffolding “shall be so constructed as to bear four times the maximum weight required to be dependent therefrom or placed thereon when in use,” meaning that it must be able to bear four times its maximum weight. Routine inspections of all scaffolding and riggings must occur before each shift to ensure that no damage poses a danger to workers.
  • If additional equipment is necessary for the project, like ladders or ropes, these must be kept in proper working order. If they have any damage, they must be fixed or replaced before work can continue in that area.
  • Any erection of scaffolding must be constructed a minimum of 10 feet away from electrical power lines to prevent falls from heights due to electrocution or electrical shocks.
  • Scaffolds must be erected on level and stable surfaces and clear of debris to prevent the safety device from shifting or collapsing. Scaffold steps and landings must be fitted with nonslip treads and guardrails.
  • Safety netting or sturdy canopies must be used to protect workers and pedestrians from falling objects that are being hoisted or secured, and they must not be allowed to develop holes or fall into disrepair.
  • Another requirement is that the job site must have a “competent person” who can identify existing and predictable gravity-related hazards and dangers that could harm workers on the job site, and, more importantly, who has the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them. Additionally, the job site and trade must also have a qualified person who has the knowledge to design and supervise the installation and use of all fall protection safety systems used on the job site. These individuals are required at all job sites no matter the size or scope. Finally, a competent and qualified person must be informed before scaffolds are built, moved, dismantled, or alerted.

While these safety measures may seem excessive, they are implemented to ensure the best possible chance for safety for anyone who needs to use the scaffolding. Going above and beyond is always a good idea to ensure worker safety.

Does the Scaffold Law affect workers’ compensation claims?

No, filing a claim under the New York Scaffold Law does not exclude you from also filing a workers’ compensation claim. While your workers’ compensation claim is brought against your employer, your claim under the New York Scaffold Law is against a third party, such as the Owner, General Contractor, or a company that controls the work and is not your employer. Filing a New York Scaffold Law claim can help you recover additional damages, like pain and suffering.

Your workers’ compensation claim and your New York Scaffold Law claim work together to cover different damages. Your workers’ compensation is intended to cover your medical and ambulance bills, cover your lost wages, provide disability benefits, and cover the rehabilitation or physical therapy you may need as you recover. Since your workers’ compensation claim does not cover 100% of your lost wages while you are recovering from your injuries, you may lose some of your average weekly wages while you are out on disability. These additional losses can be recovered in your New York Scaffold Law claim. Additionally, your scaffolding accident may cause permanent injuries that could prevent you from returning to your previous career, meaning you will need to recoup your future economic losses. Further, non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering or lost enjoyment of life, will be included in your New York Scaffold Law claim. For example, your scaffolding accident may have permanently injured your back, and now you cannot lift objects that weigh more than 10 pounds. Being unable to pick up your young children would constitute an example of a limitation to support a loss of enjoyment of life claim.

How the New York Scaffold Law Supplements Worker’s Compensation

Although recovering damages for pain and suffering is always possible in a workers’ compensation claim, it is often severely limited or negligible. That’s where the New York Scaffold Law comes in because it supplements your workers’ compensation claim and allows you to recover compensation for both past and future suffering. Since claims under the New York Scaffold Law may be traumatic and permanent, this can be a necessary avenue for workers who have suffered injuries from a gravity-related accident.

Filing a claim under the New York Scaffold Law can allow you to seek additional resources from a third party, which may give you more leeway to recover the full amount of compensation you need after your accident. Consult your attorney to learn more about filing a personal injury claim and a workers’ compensation claim.

Who is at risk for scaffolding injuries?

Scaffolding is a common and essential component of many work sites. Anyone who must utilize scaffolding on a construction site is entitled to expect that they can use it safely. Though anyone working on the site may potentially need to use scaffolding, certain professions are more at risk of having gravity-related accidents since they are more likely to need these devices to complete their job duties. The trades that are most likely to be in danger from faulty scaffolding include:

  • Electricians
  • Carpenters
  • Painters
  • Welders
  • Laborers
  • Bricklayers
  • Window washers
  • Steeplejacks
  • Maintenance workers

These professions are likely to perform their job duties at heights and may be at greater risk in the event of a scaffolding issue. To file a claim under the New York Scaffold Law, keep these requirements in mind: (1) the accident must involve gravity; (2) the injured worker must be performing a covered activity when the injury occurs; and (3) the injured worker must show that the defendant (the owner, general contractor, or other liable parties) failed to adhere to the requirements under the New York Scaffold Law, which is how the injury occurred.

Some examples of New York Scaffold Law claims include:

  • Unstable materials – Under the New York Scaffold Law, all railings, floorboards, and other structures must be properly secured. Safety and maintenance checks must be performed periodically to make sure that there are no unsecured safety hazards. If a worker suffers a gravity-related injury due to unstable materials, the work may file a suit under the New York Scaffold Law.
  • Unstable structures – Like unstable materials, all scaffolding, building structures, and any other applicable structure must be built properly to prevent gravity-related injuries.
  • Falling objects – the Owner or General Contractor may be held liable for gravity-related injuries workers sustained by falling objects that were improperly hoisted or secured.
  • Falling workers – Finally, the most crucial stipulation of the New York Scaffold Law is that any worker who suffers a gravity-related injury due to a fall from a height can file a claim against the Owner and General Contractor. Workers must be provided with adequate safety gear, such as harnesses, lanyards, and guardrails, to prevent gravity-related accidents.

The New York Scaffold Law is crucial because the potential for harm is serious and sometimes fatal regarding scaffolding injuries. Because of the height, a worker falling from scaffolding is likely to suffer serious injuries.

Workers who sustain injuries related to faulty scaffolding may suffer from the following:

These dangerous job activities may rely on scaffolding to perform essential duties. The New York Scaffold Law was enacted to prevent Owners, General Contractors, or anyone else in charge of the covered work activities from taking dangerous shortcuts when the work involves scaffolding. While ensuring that the scaffolding complies with the New York Scaffold Law might be expensive and time-consuming, preventing work injuries or death is well worth it.

Why is the New York Scaffold Law important?

The New York Scaffold Law places liability on Owners, Leaseholders, and Contractors for their failure to provide proper safety equipment to construction workers performing gravity-related work in the erection, repairing, or demolition of a building. This important law establishes strict liability for gravity-related injuries, such as when someone falls from a height or when an object falls from a height striking someone below. The New York Scaffold Law rightfully places liability on those who fail to provide appropriate safety measures or devices for workers.

Case Results: Union Stationary Engineer

In a recent case, Hach & Rose, LLP obtained the highest reported construction accident jury verdict of 2012 for a union stationary engineer on a ladder that fell while he was painting the frame of a loading dock. Unfortunately, our client did not have a co-worker available to him to hold the ladder, and he did not have a safer way to do his job. As a result of the fall, he struck his head on the concrete below, causing him to suffer a traumatic brain injury. Had it not been for the New York Scaffold Law, our client would have been limited to the limited benefits of the workers’ compensation system.

Fortunately, because of the New York Scaffold Law and the expertise provided by Hach & Rose, LLP, our client obtained a thirteen-million-dollar jury verdict. He was compensated for his past and future lost earnings, past and future medical expenses, loss of pension benefits, loss of annuity benefits, loss of medical insurance,, and pain and suffering. While money can never replace good health, the result of this case allows our client and his family financial security. If you have suffered an injury on the job, we invite you to contact Hach & Rose, LLP. We have experience, results, resources, reputation, and a commitment to our clients to provide the best legal representation possible.

Case Results: Electrician

Recently,Hach & Rose, LLP settled a New York Scaffold Law case for $1,750,000. In that case, we represented an electrician hoisting a 400-pound metal box when it fell off the lift and hit him in the head. As a result of this accident, he suffered disabling injuries and had to undergo knee surgery.

Due to the protection of the New York Scaffold Law, we obtained a court order stating that the defendant was responsible for the accident. This left only the question of damages, which allowed us to obtain maximum recovery. While money can never replace good health, a successful claim provides financial security to our clients and their families.

Some additional favorable results obtained for our client in other Scaffold Law Cases include the following:

Falling Worker Case Results

  • $11,000,000— Settlement for worker who suffered spinal cord injury due to scaffold collapse.
  • $6,489,320— Recovery for a construction worker who fell through a hole in the roof.
  • $5,500,000— Settlement for porter of apartment building repairing a light fixture from a defective ladder.
  • $4,093,600— Judicial decision in favor of an electrical contractor and his wife due to a fall through a hole at a construction project.
  • $3,525,000— For a construction supervisor who fell from a makeshift ladder injuring his back.
  • $3,475,000— For a carpenter injured after falling from a temporary roof.
  • $3,250,000— settlement for an operating engineer injured after falling through an unsecured wooden platform.
  • $3,225,000— Settlement for a roofer who fell through the roof.
  • $3,000,000— For a construction worker who fell from a height.
  • $2,750,000— Settlement for a mason who fell from a scaffold.
  • $2,500,000— Settlement for a worker who fell from the elevated worksite with no safety equipment provided.

Falling Object Case Results

  • $3,500,000— For a stonemason injured when another worker threw a piece of sheetrock out a window striking him on the ground below.
  • $3,500,000— Settlement for demolition worker injured by falling debris.
  • $3,300,000— Settlement for construction worker due to falling object.
  • $2,500,000— Settlement for a worker injured when a piece of construction debris fell from a building.

Hach & Rose, LLP construction accident attorneys are dedicated to vigorously protecting the rights and interests of those who have been hurt on construction sites due to the negligence or recklessness of another party. Contact Hach & Rose, LLP at (212) 779-0057 for a free consultation.

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