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What is the "Scaffold Law?"

The Scaffold Law (NYS Labor Law sections 240/241) imposes "absolute liability" for elevation-related injuries on contractors and property owners engaged in construction, repair, or demolition work. Absolute liability means that the contributing fault of an injured worker, such as failure to use provided safety equipment or gross negligence, is virtually irrelevant in court. 

New York is the only state in the nation with such a blatantly unjust law. All other states apportion liability in proportion to fault. For example, if a worker was 30% responsible for their own injury, the defendants are only liable for 70% of the judgment. 

What are the impacts of the Scaffold Law?

Because a settlement is virtually guaranteed, this law is generates an astounding number of expensive lawsuits. In fact, more than half of the most expensive New York settlements in 2012 were a result of the Scaffold Law, and the number of lawsuits has increased by 500% since 1990, despite a decreasing rate of injuries. Because of this, the cost of insuring construction projects is as much as 10 times higher than other states. 

The tremendous costs of the Scaffold Law have an impact across New York: construction costs go up, fewer workers are hired (with some being laid off), consumers pay higher prices for goods and services, and the economy suffers. 

How does the Scaffold Law cost taxpayers?

Every single taxpayer-funded construction project costs more because of this law, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars each year. Additionally, taxpayers are on the hook again when the state and local governments are sued under the Scaffold Law. 

How should the Scaffold Law be fixed?

The current standard of "absolute liability" must be replaced with a standard of "comparative negligence." Under this standard, liability is apportioned by a jury, in proportion to actual fault. This is the way virtually every other area of our civil justice system functions. 

Would reforming the law eliminate any safety protections?

Absolutely not. This common-sense reform would not prevent injured workers from bringing lawsuits for their injuries. It would simply give New York property owners, business owners, and contractors the chance to defend themselves in court when injuries caused are the result of the worker's own negligence or intoxication.


You can find more information in our issue papers below:


Countering the Lawyers' Rhetoric

Scaffold Law Fact Sheet

Why Reforming the Scaffold Law Would Benefit Labor Unions, Workers, and Employers

The Center for Popular Democracy's "Fatally Flawed" Criticism of the Rockefeller Institute Scaffold Law Study

Support SB.111 / A.3104

Tell your legislator that you want Scaffold Law reform. New Yorkers have borne this burden too long. More

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