Scaffold Reform: Just one way to open NY for Business

Did you know that if a worker is injured while intoxicated or ignoring safety training, that a property owner and contract could be held accountable for full damages? This is what happens now under the law, is this fair? Is this good for business? Let’s change it…

NFIB has been working with many partner groups over the years in our effort to reform the Scaffold Law and we made great strides in 2012.  This past year, a Scaffold reform bill was carried by Senator Gallivan and Assemblyman Morelle (S.6816/A.2835) marking the first time in three years this issue has seen support in both houses.  You have probably heard us talk about Scaffold at length and until reform is accomplished, we are going to keep talking about it.

The Scaffold Law (NYS Labor Law §§240, 241) is a provision which imposes absolute liability upon property owners and contractors for any gravity related accident.  This means that regardless of fault, a property owner and contractors will be held 100% liable for any injury.  Some might claim that Scaffold is meant to protect workers but the fact is that New York’s rate of construction-related injuries is higher than many other states, such as Florida, Texas and Illinois, all of which do not have a Scaffold Law.  Scaffold Law does not protect workers on the job site but rather creates a disconnect for workers from responsibility for their actions,which is inconsistent with the goal of safety.

When these statues and statistics are explained to people they usually respond by rolling their eyes and saying “only in New York”.  Well, they are correct.  This antiquated and costly law only exists in New York.  For a state that is striving to be “open for business”, a law like this makes little sense.  In fact, this law does the exact opposite and closes New York from completing projects and creating construction jobs.  The costs of general liability in New York are between 300% and 1200% higher than in neighboring states and many contractors cannot find coverage at any price.  The New York State Builders’ Association estimates that the cost of an average home is $10,000 higher because of the Scaffold Law.

The added cost of Scaffold Law makes it prohibitive to take on construction projects and create jobs in New York.  For instance, the Tappen Zee Bridge replacement project is estimated to cost over $100 million in just liability insurance.   Taxpayers and business owners simply cannot absorb this added cost.  And this is just one example.  These costs are a significant factor in every taxpayer funded construction project – from roads and bridges, to building and schools.  It is important to note that municipalities must also meet the burden of the cost of judgments and settlements when they are sued under Scaffold Law.  Just imagine the number of jobs that could be created in New York without Scaffold related costs making it impossible to afford a construction project.  The last state to repeal Scaffold Law was Illinois in 1995.  Since that time the number of construction jobs rose 25% and the number of construction fatalities dropped 30% in Illinois as well.

So what can be done to remedy this situation and open New York for business? Reform the law. A full repeal is not necessary. The legislation introduced in 2012 by Senator Gallivan and Assemblyman Morelle did just that.  The legislation did not limit the right for a worker to sue or the amount that could be rewarded.  It simply holds that the award be reduced by the proportional amount for which the worker was at fault – the same standard applied in all 49 other states.  By changing the liability standard to “comparative negligence”, instead of absolute liability, fault will be assigned proportionally and the damages paid will be in-line with the actual cause of the injury.  The legislation has no impact on workers who are injured through the negligence of another party – negligent employers are still held fully liable and the injured worker may still collect workers’ compensation benefits.

The comparative negligence standard found in this reform coupled with protecting the continued rights of workers, rings of fairness and that is all we are looking to achieve.  Fair and predictable outcomes allow businesses to take on large-scale projects at a reasonable cost and thus encourage job creation and economic development.  We need to keep up the momentum from last year and see this legislation introduced again in 2013. This time we need to see it passed and signed into law.  In other words, Scaffold Law Reform is one way to truly open New York for business.

For more information on Scaffold Reform check out www.scaffoldlaw.org

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About Mike Durant

Mike Durant was named New York State Director of NFIB in May 2011. Prior to joining NFIB as the Assistant State Director in May 2010, Durant began his career in the New York Senate working in the Office of Member Services. From there, he served in a number of positions during former New York Governor George E. Pataki’s administration. As a Research Specialist in the New York State Office of Demographic Policy, Mike was responsible for drafting a redistricting proposal for Governor Pataki. In addition, Mike served as a Research Specialist for the Empire State Development Corporation, as well as the Associate Commissioner of Human Resource Management with the New York Department of Labor. Durant also spent four years working at the Questar III BOCES as a specialist focusing on the complex formulas that drive aid to school districts across the state while also taking a lead role in the state legislative/budget process as it related to education policy. These past positions have given Mike a deep understanding of the complex political economics of the State of New York. Active in the community, Durant has served on a number of boards in both the village of Ballston Spa and Town of Milton. Durant received his bachelor’s degree from Siena College in Loudonville, New York and resides in Ballston Spa with his wife and two children.
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