Beyond Workers Compensation — New York Labor Law Sec. 240

New York Labor Law Sec. 240 — also known as the Scaffold Law — holds the general contractor and building owner strictly liable for injuries on the job at a construction site. This law covers injuries caused by “scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices” and has been on the books since 1969.

New York is the last state to retain this essential protection to construction workers beyond workers compensation. Owners of single and two-family homes are exempt from the strict liability aspect of Sec. 240, but can still be sued by an injured worker under a claim of ordinary negligence, as can the architects or engineers associated with the site. Only building owners and the general contractor are held to strict liability.

Sec. 240 ensures that general contractors cannot delegate responsibility for providing a safe workplace when hiring subcontractors.

There is pressure to repeal or reform the Scaffold Law coming from construction and insurance companies. One New York legislator has suggested that construction injuries should be guided by a comparative negligence standard instead of strict liability. This would absolve the employer of at least some liability upon proof that the worker was intoxicated, performing a criminal act, horsing around or not following worksite protocols.

Working above the ground on scaffolding is particularly dangerous, of course, because of gravity. Things fall and there is not much room for error far above the ground. Falling objects, too, can cause major injuries, which are compensable under Sec. 240. Falls often result in spinal injuries, concussions and broken bones.

Those in favor of keeping the Scaffold Law say it provides an important incentive to maintain safe work sites, especially as the use of subcontractors increases, and has resulted in New York having one of the best safety records in the construction industry.