Getting a Maximum Recovery for Construction Injuries; The Scaffold Law


New York has a unique law protecting construction workers who risk falls and grave injuries from elevated heights, such as scaffolds, ladders, hoists, lifts, sidewalk sheds, and platforms. The construction and business lobbies have been working non-stop to repeal this law.

Labor Law section 240 (1) protects workers who fall from these elevated devices. The law applies to construction, repairs, demolition, painting, and cleaning. The owners of one and two family homes are exempt. This law imposes strict liability against both the building owner and the general contractor if there has been a safety violation which caused the injury. For example, if a worker fell from a scaffold and if there were no safety lines that would have prevented the fall, the lack of safety lines would make the owner and general contractor liable.

This law has been on the books for over 100 years. The basis for the law is that construction work is inherently dangerous, and the landlord and general contractor are in the best position to make sure that the elevation devices are safe. The obligation falls on them rather than the worker since the worker does not control the worksite.

Contractors, both big and small, have been pushing hard for the repeal of this law. They have been allied with upstate business interests who claim that repeal would spur an economic revival to the construction industry. There is no rational basis to this claim, and, in fact, construction is flourishing in New York City and its environs.

Organized labor has been fighting repeal. We urge that you make your voice heard and that you contact your legislators to vote NO on A.7213/S.1710.

In addition to attacks on the scaffold law, the business lobbies have proposed numerous “reforms” to the workers’ compensation system. These “reforms” have been promoted as making the system “fairer,” but in reality they would end-up hurting workers. They seek to tinker with the benefits of the most seriously injured workers in order to save money to employers.

Under the present system an injured worker who is permanently partially disabled can collect lost income for the rest of his life. He is also entitled to medical coverage. A worker who is classified as permanently partially disabled has sustained a very serious injuries preventing him from working. Such an injured worker receives the maximum sum of $400 a week for his lost income. This benefit has not been increased since 1982.

Since permanently partially disabled workers are the most seriously injured and cannot work again, the system pays out the most for them.

The governor and business have proposed that payments for permanently partially disabled workers be limited to less than 10 years as compared to the present lifetime benefit. In a gesture to labor, the governor has proposed raising the monthly maximum payment from $400 to $500. Labor says that this increase is still too low in that it does not raise the benefit to two thirds of the weekly average wage which is the standard in many states. That would bring maximum weekly income to $630.

Organized labor has fought to increase the weekly maximum compensation benefit of $400 for years since it is very difficult to live on that amount. (Many workers receive less depending on their last income and their injuries.) Cynically, the so-called “reformers” have seen this as opportunity to press their agenda for see widespread changes which would help business. In exchange for raising the weekly benefit the “reformers” seek to cap the benefits to those permanently partially disabled. The net effect would be to limit rights of the most seriously injured who need the system the most.

The Trial Lawyers Association and labor are strongly allied in keeping worker protections intact. We suggest that you check the website at nystla.org in the immediate weeks on proposed changes and that you make your voices heard.

If you have any questions regarding the new law please contact our office by calling (800) 581-1434.

Mark E. Seitelman, 6/21/08,  www.seitelman.com, letters@seitelman.com.

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2 Responses to Getting a Maximum Recovery for Construction Injuries; The Scaffold Law

  1. […] the Labor Law available to construction workers injured on the job.  See some of our prior posts here, here, here, and […]

  2. jstbook says:

    One of the commonest reasons for serious injury on a building site is a scaffolding accident. Workers falling from scaffolding, and items dropped from scaffolding which hit people on the ground, cause back and spinal damage, broken limbs and head injuries and, in most cases, are completely preventable.

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