The 1885 law enacted in New York when the first skyscrapers began being built which protect workers from fall-from-height accidents is still in force today, and not a lot of people are happy about it.
Labor Law § 240, more commonly known as the Scaffold Law, essentially places all the liability for construction site injuries of workers on the contractor or construction company no matter if the worker was partly or entirely at fault. Others characterize it as “absolute” liability which critics say is unfair to conscientious and law-abiding contractors that ensure the safety of their workers to the best of their ability. There have been numerous attempts to modify the law, understandably mostly by construction companies and their insurers, but so far it remains essentially the same.
The main contention of these would-be reformers is that the law is hurting the industry by driving up costs. But as stated in the website of Hach & Rose, the fact is that some contractors and construction companies cut corners when it comes to the safety of their workers, making a construction site even more dangerous than it has to be. This is one of the main reasons that the Scaffold Law came into being in the first place.
Construction workers are constantly in danger of serious injury because of the nature of the work, but it would be incredible to suggest that they would risk life and limb simply to collect damages under the Scaffold Law. It is undeniable that there are accidents that are due to the worker’s own negligence, but this is by far the minority.
While modifying the Scaffold Law to put liability on a comparative fault basis may be a good idea, there is little impetus to push this beyond the proposal stage at this point. Construction workers in New York are still under the current terms of the Scaffold Law.