Scaffold Law Reform at The Capitol

Hundreds of advocates from various professions represented from every corner of New York State, convened at the State Capitol in Albany, NY on Tuesday, February 11 for Scaffold Law Reform Advocacy Day, to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo and Legislators to reform New York’s Scaffold Law.

Reforming the century-old Scaffold Law, which has bipartisan support in both houses, will allow Minority/ Women Owned Businesses to remain open and communities to build much needed classrooms and hospitals.

“The Scaffold Law drives up the cost of every public and private construction project in New York because building owners and contractors are held “absolutely liable” for “elevation related injuries,” regardless of the facts of the case, or the real liability for the injury. The time has come to change this antiquated law,” said, Heather C. Briccetti, Esq., President and CEO of The Business Council of New York State, Inc.

The Scaffold Law is an anachronism that continues to exist at the expense not only of the construction industry, but also the economy, state and local governments, school districts, small businesses, farmers and taxpayers. Public projects, like the Tappan Zee Bridge, New York City Schools, roads and bridges cost more in New York due to the absolute liability standard, severely limiting our ability to keep infrastructure safe and rebuild more efficiently after weather related events like Superstorm Sandy.

New York remains the only state in the nation with such an absolute liability standard.  A comparative market analysis demonstrates that insurance costs on public and privately financed construction projects would be significantly lower with scaffold law reform.  New York’s Scaffold Law predates the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Workers’ Compensation Law, state regulations, local laws, and construction industry best practices that provide rigorous safety protections to workers.

New York’s general liability insurance market is in crisis mode.  The absolute liability standard and threat of large cash awards to plaintiffs has limited the number of insurance companies willing to provide general liability and reinsurance policies in New York. The insurance marketplace is under duress, with carriers passing along increases ranging from 20% to 400%.  Such increases are then passed on to the consumer and drive up the cost on every construction project, be it a house, a bridge, a school, a barn or a high-rise building.  In many cases, the only insurance market open to contractors and subcontractors is the non-admitted lines, where exclusions for scaffold law related claims are not uncommon.

The Scaffold Law also has a destructive impact on minority and women owned (M/WBE) contractors.  Governor Cuomo has recently increased the state’s target for M/WBE involvement in state projects, but advocates argue that the scaffold law disproportionately affects M/WBEs who are generally smaller and cannot afford the insurance costs, or could be quickly bankrupted by a large settlement.  Scaffold law reform would accelerate more business opportunities for M/WBE firms.


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