Scaffold Law News Blog
- 14 October 2011
Recently, the Rochester City School District was effectively denied the opportunity to defend itself against a lawsuit filed in 2006.
We are taught from an early age that justice means everyone has the right to defend themselves in court. But surprisingly, this is not always the case.
In New York, and nowhere else, property owners and the contractors they hire can be denied this right. Labor Law sections 240 and 241, commonly called the “Scaffold Law”, are responsible for this injustice. Enacted in the late 19th century, long before the advent of OSHA standards and Workers’ Compensation laws, the Scaffold Law states that an employer or property owner is automatically fully liable for any “elevation related injury” sustained by a worker. Even if a worker was completely negligent, intoxicated, or violating safety standards, they can sue their employer for millions and win automatically.
In 2006, a worker employed by a contractor working for the Rochester School District was injured when a scaffold collapsed. According to a witness, the worker disobeyed his supervisor’s instruction to use a ladder to climb the scaffold, and instead attempted climb the exterior of the structure, collapsing it in the process. The worker sued the Rochester School District, who had no direct control over the work site. The worker’s attorneys claimed that since the worker was injured and that the injury was elevation related, the School District was automatically liable under the Scaffold Law and there was no need for a trial. The School District appealed, but on October 7th, the appeal was unanimously denied by the Appellate Court. The amount of the award has not been yet been determined.
Make no mistake, this decision does not call into question the integrity of our highly experienced and competent Justices. Rather, it highlights the devastating impact of New York’s obsolete and unjust Scaffold Law. Any rational person would agree the worker was at least partially responsible for his injuries. Nevertheless, because of the Scaffold Law, the school district was never got a chance to defend itself at a trial. The cost of the judgment will be borne by the taxpayers, teachers, and students.
Meanwhile, the lawyers who make millions of dollars from these lawsuits insist that the Scaffold Law is necessary to keep workers safe, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
This example is a timely reminder that all of us are paying for the Scaffold Law, whether we like it or not. We need to fix this! New Yorkers have suffered under this law for far too long. Let's bring a little common sense back to our state.