In the legal community the special protections afforded to construction workers are well known, such as the right to recovery where the worker was injured due to an elevation risk, such as a fall from a scaffold or ladder. See Labor Law 240 (1). Aslo see our “Being Prepared” post, “After the Cranes Collapsed” (6/23/08).
However, it is not well known that window washers have their own statute. See Labor Law 202.
Window washers are subject to extraordinary danger. On December 7, 2007, a brother team of window washers fell from their scaffold approximately 40 stories from the street. One brother died almost immediately. The other brother miraculously survived. He is walking and has an excellent chance of recovery.
The Window Washer Law imposes strict liability against the building owner, lessor, or agent, where the window washer get injured due to a violation, such as a defective safety harness or scaffold. For example, if a window washer falls and if his safety harness rips and fails to prevent the fall, the injured window washer does not have to prove that the harness ripped due to negligence or fault. Similarly, if the scaffold collapses, the injured window washer does not have prove negligence. In essence, the building owner is strictly liable. The owner can bring into the action any other party who may have caused or contributed to the accident, such as a scaffold maintainence company or the manufacturer of defective equipment.
These special protections are only available to commercial window washers working on office buildings or tall residential structures. For example, Multiple dwellings of six stories or less are exempt. Therefore, a maid cleaning the windows in a one family home of two stories would not receive the protection of this statute. The statute is intended to protect widow washers working office buildings, schools, factories, other commercial buildings, and tall apartment houses.
We recently signed-up a case that fallls within this statute. Our client, a window washer, was working on a downtown skyscraper. On starting his job while getting on the scaffold, he fell due to a hole cut in the scaffold’s floor for the placement of the motor. The hole was too big. The client fell, and he fractured his hand and wrist. He eventually had surgery. The client did not fall off the scaffold. The client and the scaffold were on the roof of the building prior to descent off the side of the building. Even, though there was no fall from the building or the scaffold, the window washer is protected under the statute due to a defective scaffold in the course of his work.
Lawyers rarely encounter Window Washer Law cases for the simple reason that there are only about 600 unionized window washers in New York City. According to our client there used to be about 1,200 workers ten years ago. The diminished workforce is a result of office building owners washing their windows less frequently. Our client also opined that window washers tend to be very careful and make sure that all safety equipment is in place before starting work. If a worker does not feel that a job or site is safe, then he does not have to work according to union rules.
Mark E Seitelman, 6/24/08, www.seitelman.com