Court of Appeals Decision Dramatically Expands the Scaffold Law

On Wednesday, October 26, the highest court in New York State issued a decision on a case which will dramatically expand the scope of the “Scaffold Law.” In the case, Wilinski v. 334 East 92nd Housing Development Fund Corp, 2011 NY Slip Op 7477, a worker was demolishing the walls of a warehouse building. In front of the brick wall that the worker was demolishing were two metal plumbing pipes rising vertically from the floor on which the worker was standing.

Two other workers demolished an adjacent wall about four feet away from worker, causing that wall to collapse into the pipes. The pipes toppled onto the worker and caused an injury. The court held that the worker’s injury falls under the scope of the Scaffold Law.

This new decision greatly expands the liability of property owners and general contractors. Previously, the object had to fall from a height and be a material or load being hoisted or needing to be secured.  Now, no height is necessary; merely falling over, from the same level, is enough.

This new decision highlights one of the major problems with the Scaffold Law. While trial lawyers vehemently assert that the scope of the law has been narrowed, cases such as this tell a different story. Without a change to the law, a court decision can change the Scaffold Law without warning, exposing owners and contractors to absolute liability from which they had previously been safe. The presence of this uncertainty is reflected in general liability premiums, which will undoubtedly rise as a result of this recent decision. Yet again, small businesses and taxpayers across the state will see their costs increase despite the fact that they have done no wrong.

Will this decision make workers safer? Absolutely not. Rather, it will only serve to drive up costs and incentivize even more indefensible lawsuits against New Yorkers. Unquestionably, the need to give property owners and contractors the right to defend themselves from a lawsuit by a negligent worker has never been greater. New Yorkers must stand up for rationality and demand more jobs, safer workplaces, lower taxes, and an end to million-dollar trial lawyer handouts.

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