New York's scaffold law, Labor Law § 240, provides workers with a high level of protection against elevation-related hazards by placing the ultimate responsibility for safety practices on contractors and property owners. According to the law, the contractor or property owner is responsible for constructing and equipping a scaffold so that it meets all safety requirements. If the scaffold is deficient in any way, and a worker is injured in a fall, the owner or contractor is absolutely liable for the worker's injuries.
The scaffold law goes even farther than Labor Law § 200, which requires employers to take reasonable care to provide workers with a safe work environment. If the employer fails in that regard, and a hazard at the worksite causes injury to a worker, the employer can be sued for negligence. Yet, the employer has some protections as well. If the employer did not create the hazardous condition, he is entitled to notice and an opportunity to cure before being held liable. Also, the employer can introduce evidence of a worker's negligence to defend the claim.
Not so under the scaffold law. The contractor or owner has an absolute duty to make the scaffolding safe. If there is any defect in the scaffold, or if it does not comply with the letter of the law, the contractor or owner is absolutely liable. The contractor or owner cannot introduce evidence that a worker's negligence, disregard for an order, or even drunkenness, was a contributing factor to an accident.
There are only two defenses to an action under Labor Law § 240:
- Recalcitrant worker - If adequate safety equipment exists and a worker refuses to use it, that worker cannot sue for a fall injury that results from failure to use the available equipment.
- Proximate cause - A defect in the scaffold or the absence of safety equipment must be the proximate cause of the worker's fall. If there is no defect, the worker does not have a cause of action under § 240.
Contributory negligence does not apply in a Labor Law § 240 action - if the owner or contractor is as much as one percent responsible for the worker's fall, they will bear 100 percent of the liability.
If you or a loved one has been hurt in a scaffold or ladder fall, you may have an action under Labor Law § 240. For answers to all your personal injury questions, speak to an experienced attorney at Rubin & Licatesi, P.C. For a free consultation, call us at 516-227-2662 or contact our Brooklyn office online.