When Does the Scaffold Law Apply?
For more than 125 years, New York State has recognized construction as an especially important and particularly dangerous job. The earliest version of today's scaffold law came into being in Chapter 314 of New York's Laws of 1885. It was the first law making it a misdemeanor for a person employing or directing another in performing labor on a structure — i.e., any kind of building — to fail to provide safe scaffolding. Ever since, the scaffold law has come under routine and withering attack by building owners, general contractors, and their defense attorneys. But the essence of the law as so far withstood concerted lobbying and criticism.
Recently, New York's Court of Appeals — its highest court — clarified that the scaffold law imposes liability whenever there is a "failure to provide workers with adequate protection from reasonably preventable, gravity-related accidents.” This decision came as part of a case in which a pipe secured to a wall at about the height of the injured worker's head came loose and struck a demolition worker.
Under earlier interpretations of the law, workers injured by a toppling object with its base at the injured worker's level could not benefit from the scaffold law because the worker and the object were at the same level. Now, any worker struck by a falling or toppling object can seek the protection of the scaffold law, even if the base of the object is at the same height as the worker.
New York's scaffold law does not apply to construction work on one- or two-family homes. But in all other cases, building owners and general contractors — or other contractors employing or directing the injured worker — have a type of strict liability under the scaffold law. Almost regardless of who causes the accident or circumstances surrounding the accident, owners and contractors risk significant liability if they do not provide sufficiently safe scaffolding. If you have been injured in New York, contact a personal injury lawyer with expertise in pursuing construction accident cases involving scaffolding.