Successful Defense in Construction-Site Fall Averts Trial, Scaffold Law
Case Study

Successful Defense in Construction-Site Fall Averts Trial, Scaffold Law

February 1, 2019

Associate attorney Chelsea Manocchi knew that if she had to go to trial to defend her insurance-carrier client against the claim filed by a construction worker who’d fallen from a ladder, she would run into the legal equivalent of a brick wall: New York State Labor Law 240(1)—better known as the Scaffold Law.

The controversial law—the only one of its kind in the country—makes construction companies and their insurance carriers 100 percent liable for construction-site injuries caused by falls or falling objects. When a case goes to trial under the Scaffold Law, there’s only one thing left to decide: how much the defendant will pay.

The Scaffold Law is so controversial critics have pushed for its overhaul. According to a 2013 study by the SUNY Rockefeller Institute, the law annually costs taxpayers at least $785 million and private businesses that work on public projects about $1.5 billion.

The law figured to prove costly to Chelsea’s client, too—the initial demand was six figures—if she didn’t find a way out of going to trial. Among the damages sought by the plaintiff, a 34-year-old laborer, were lost wages, recovery of a large workers’ compensation lien, and pain and suffering. He said he had injuries to his arm and shoulder and needed surgery after falling from a ladder while working at a residential construction site.

Looming over the defense was the specter of the Scaffold Law. If there were a trial, Chelsea, a member of Goldberg Segalla’s General Liability Practice Group, would have to litigate the underlying labor-law claims, including Labor Law 240(1)—which, in her words, “imposes an absolute, non-delegable duty for gravity-related injuries on construction sites without regard to [the] plaintiff’s comparative negligence.” 

So, on October 18, 2018, Chelsea filed a motion for summary judgment and dismissal of the case. Because the plaintiff was working at the construction site through a staffing agency, he was a special employee of Chelsea’s client, Chelsea argued, which meant that his claim was prohibited under state worker’s compensation law. The judge granted the motion, ending the two-year-old case.