Newest Assembly Member: New York Needs Scaffold Law Reform

By: Scott Hobson – Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York

We would like to join the many others in congratulating Ray Walter on becoming the new Assembly Member for Amherst.  Most significantly, we would like to applaud our state’s newest legislator on his commitment to reforming Labor Law 240/241, also known as the “Scaffold Law”.

His constituents should be familiar with the “only in New York” Scaffold Law, as they are currently on the hook for $13.6m because of this antiquated and outdated provision.

In 2006, a construction firm was asked by the Town of Amherst to do an estimate on a roofing job at a town-owned building.  During that estimate, three men improperly used the top half of a ladder, one without the safety grips on the bottom, to scale the building.  The men were aware of the ladder’s deficiency, so they asked another worker to secure the bottom while they climbed.  Soon after, that worker decided to climb the ladder himself, which collapsed, causing serious injuries.

The injured worker sued the Town of Amherst under the Scaffold Law, which holds an employer or property owner automatically fully liable for any elevation related work injury, whether or not they had direct control over the work site. Defendants in Scaffold Law suits never get the chance to defend themselves at trial and the injured worker is still entitled to worker’s compensation payments. There was little the town could do, and may ultimately have to pay the judgment of $23.4 million. With only $10 million in insurance coverage, the taxpayers of Amherst are on the hook for $13.4 million.

The people of Amherst could have used that money to pay for emergency services, hire teachers, repair their streets, or lower taxes. It is for exactly that reason that the newly formed “Let New York Work” coalition is advocating for Scaffold Law reform as part of their mandate relief package.

Ray Walter has already recognized the need to reform this outdated law. According Walter in a recent article in the Legislative Gazette,

“The main issue in western New York and across New York state is jobs. We need to do what we can to help create jobs here in my district. One of the ways that we propose to do that is … we need to address the regulatory burden that we place on our small businesses,” he said, referring to what he says are onerous costs imposed on local businesses such as those associated with Workers Compensation laws and measures such as the Scaffold Law, which holds employers fully liable for any elevation-related injuries sustained by workers, regardless of fault. The Scaffold Law in New York is the only law of its kind remaining in the United States.

As the 2012 Legislative session approaches, Ray Walter and his 211 fellow legislators will have the chance to finally make a difference. Reforming the Scaffold Law, which has broad bipartisan support, would not take away anyone’s right to recover for their injuries, it would simply give an employer or property owner the chance to defend themselves in court. This reform could create thousands of new construction jobs, improve workplace safety, help struggling small businesses, and take the pressure off the budgets of towns and cities statewide.

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