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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday February 10, 2015

CONTACT: Phoebe Stonbely (518)708-3578


Coalition eyes opportunity for sensible reform following recent changes in power

ALBANY, NY – Over one hundred advocates from various professions, and from every corner of New York State, convened at the state capitol in Albany, NY today for Scaffold Law Reform Day at the Capitol, to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo and the legislature to reform New York’s Scaffold Law.

The Scaffold Law holds contractors and property owners 100% “absolutely liable” in lawsuits for gravity-related injuries, regardless of any contributing fault of a worker. Advocates for reform are asking that the law be reformed to a “comparative negligence” standard, where the conduct of the employee is considered when apportioning liability, just as it is done in every other state and every other part of New York’s civil justice system.

“The Scaffold Law is the greatest symbol of New York’s hostility towards business. Unless we reform the law and align New York with the rest of the states, New York will continue to fall further behind.” Said Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, which helped organize the event. In addition to costs to private businesses, Stebbins pointed to the costs to schools, roads, and bridges.

Several attendees highlighted the flight of insurance companies as one of the primary issues with the Scaffold Law, noting that most insurance companies will not write policies in New York. “If I can’t get insurance, I can’t work,” said one attendee.

The Scaffold Law has been a source of debate in Albany for years, but the coalition of over 70 organizations sees an opportunity in the arrest of Sheldon Silver and the subsequent change in leadership. While asbestos litigation was at the heart of the complaint against Silver, the law firm involved in the scandal, Weitz & Luxenberg, also litigated Scaffold Law cases, and the trial lawyer lobby is one of the staunchest opponents of reform.

In the past year, the reform effort has garnered support from some unlikely sources, including disaster relief organizations and affordable housing advocates. The New York City School Construction Authority has noted that they paid an additional $215 million in insurance costs due to the Scaffold Law in 2014 alone, enough to build several new schools. Advocates hope that with these new sources of support and new leadership in the Assembly, this will be the year for reform.

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“The simple adoption of a comparative negligence standard—the standard that applies to all other damage claims in New York State—and which exists in all other states—would drastically cut public and private construction costs by lowering liability insurance cost. 

As a side benefit of reform, lower cost of coverage will benefit small businesses, including minority and women owned enterprises, encouraging them to enter the marketplace and participate in public construction projects. Importantly, this type of reform does not diminish any construction safety rules, and preserves injured workers’ right to file suit, with the courts determining how much each party is at fault.”

-Heather C. Briccetti, President and CEO, The Business Council of New York State, Inc.

“The trial attorneys have become the 4th branch of state government for far too long.  Reform for them isn’t about worker safety—it is about the money they earn in 240 cases. Can you tell me of any other judicial proceeding in this country—where any party to the proceeding does not have the right, if they so choose, to submit facts to a jury of their peers?  There is none except for the 240 scaffold law.”

-Louis J. Coletti, President & CEO, Building Trades Employers’ Association

“As long as New York’s Scaffold Law remains on the books, New York will never truly be open for business. This one-of-a-kind, only in the nation law places absolute liability on contractors and property owners for workplace injuries regardless of who is at fault. Rather than risk doing business in New York State and exposing themselves to arcane regulations – like the Scaffold Law, the insurance industry has fled like many other New Yorkers to states with more business friendly regulations.  As a result companies who have worked safely for years are forced to pay unbearable premiums if they are lucky, or close their businesses for good if they are not. I urge Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to open New York for business and reform the Scaffold Law this year.”

-Mike Elmendorf, President and CEO, Associated General Contractors of New York State

PDF of Press Release

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