ITHACA, N.Y. — New York state’s unique “scaffold law,” or Labor Law 240, designed to keep construction sites safe, is actually doing just the opposite: It is causing hundreds of injuries while costing the public millions of dollars.
The scaffold law places liability for construction site injuries solely on the builder, and according to a study by the University at Albany and Cornell University, the State of New York incurs an additional 677 workplace accidents per year because of the law.
In addition to making worksites more dangerous, researchers discovered that the scaffold law annually diverts at least $785 million of public money away from schools and local governments toward lawsuits, legal costs and insurance.
The study also analyzed the effect of the scaffold law on the private sector, which is estimated at $1.487 billion per year. The study took into account associated legal costs, workers’ compensation payments, medical costs and other expenses.
For more than 30 years the law has been a frequent target of debate in Albany. Proponents of reform, including contractors, businesses and local governments, charge that the absolute liability standard of the scaffold law is outdated and unnecessarily drives up costs for construction in New York. Those opposing reform counter that placing absolute liability onto contractors and property is essential for workplace safety.
The study also found:
• New York is the only state in the country to have such a law, and there is no evidence that any other country has a similar standard of absolute liability
• Additional injuries associated with the scaffold law cost New York State between $34 million and $84.7 million in worker’s compensation costs, and between $26 million and $65.1 million in direct, indirect and quality-of-life costs, annually
• Redirecting the money spent on lawsuits and insurance to the construction industry would add an additional $480 million in labor income
• Shifting dollars from lawyers and insurers to contractors would be a net gain of 12,000 jobs
• Study estimates an additional $110 million spent annually on legal costs associated with the Scaffold Law
The study was funded by the New York Civil Justice Institute, a non-partisan nonprofit research organization committed to providing objective analysis and solutions to issues affecting New York’s civil justice system.