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New York's scaffold law

New York has by far the nation's most employer-hostile law when it comes to construction injuries caused by falls: it simply presumes employers' fault for such injuries, and subjects them to tort-style damages for them, separate from, and over and above, workers' comp awards. The law "applies to every form of building, from Trump's glitziest tower to a strip mall in Poughkeepsie," notes Jon Coppelman at Workers' Comp Insider. And while the law does offer substantial financial balm to workers who suffer calamitous falls from, say, skyscrapers under construction, it "also pays the painter, standing on a bucket in a closet, who injures himself in a fall totalling 24 inches." Gov. Pataki unsuccessfully sought the law's repeal some years back, but the Assembly refused to go along; small businesses everywhere from Rockland County to Rochester to Buffalo are up in arms against it. Nonetheless, the cause was omitted from the supposedly comprehensive workers' comp package signed into law last month by Gov. Spitzer.

More: According to Eric Turkewitz, the above description overstates the difficulties the law presents to employers:

it does not apply to the recalcitrant worker whose injury is brought on by his/her failure to use safety equipment that has been provided, nor to the worker who is injured solely due to his or her own negligence.

The claim that strict liability applies to "any injuries resulting from a fall" is simply wrong. There is no liability without a violation of safety standards, and that violation must have been a cause of the accident.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.