Report blames Scaffold Law for high costs and slow progress on infrastructure improvements

Courtesy of The Governor’s Office

A regulatory reform coalition that works to “simplify bureaucratic structures” unveiled a paper today that portrays New York’s “Scaffold Law” as outdated, costly and as an impediment to infrastructure improvements.

“For too long, New Yorkers have lived with the unintended consequences of New York’s Labor Law §240, a 19th-century statute commonly called the ‘Scaffold Law’ — enormous legal settlements, prohibitive insurance rates, and, as a result, materially higher costs for infrastructure and building projects,” states the report by Common Good, a group that aims to simplify government.

The group points to state and federal legislation they say would improve the 130-year-old Scaffold Law which holds property owners and contractors “absolutely liable” for gravity related injuries that happen on construction worksites, even if the injured party’s own negligence contributed to the accident.

Opponents of the Scaffold Law say it is costly to taxpayers and outdated. The statute costs the state of New York $785 million annually and costs the private sector $1.49 billion in related costs each year, according to a 2013 report by the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

“The Scaffold Law is a classic example of obsolete law, and is indicative of a problem with American law generally. Just like other obsolete laws, the Scaffold Law is now defended only by the special interests that have formed around them, including the plaintiff’s bar that benefit from the growth of legal cases and settlements under the law,” Common Good’s paper concludes.

The Infrastructure Expansion Act introduced by Congressman John Faso, R-Kinderhook, last month would apply a “comparative negligence” standard to New York construction projects that receive federal funding. This would take into consideration the role that the injured party played in the accident during legal proceedings.

A bill (A.5624/S.6876) by Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Cohoes, and Sen. Fred Akshar, R-Colesville, would apply this “comparative negligence” standard to both private and public construction work, regardless of the funding source.

“New York’s 130-year old Scaffold Law has been a road-block to rebuilding New York’s infrastructure and economy for far too long,” said Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York. “New York is out of step with the 49 other states and we cannot continue to watch billions of both public and private funds go to waste on sky-high liability costs.”

Common Good’s paper on the New York state Scaffold Law can be found here.