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Proposed Legislation Would Ease Scaffold Law Impact on NY Projects With Federal Funding

September 27, 2017

In collaboration with the Associated General Contractors of New York State, Goldberg Segalla’s William J. Greagan participated in drafting proposed federal legislation to lessen the burden of New York’s Scaffold Law for construction projects involving federal funds. New York’s Labor Law 240(1) imposes an absolute, non-delegable liability on owners and general contractors for gravity-related injuries to construction workers — injuries caused by falls or by objects that fall. In addition to liability without fault imposed on the owner and general contractor, the injured worker’s own conduct in causing the injury is not considered, even if the worker failed to follow safety instructions or safe work practices in accordance with training provided, failed to utilize provided safety equipment or devices, was impaired by the use of drugs or alcohol, or was involved in a criminal act.

The proposed legislation — entitled the “Infrastructure Expansion Act of 2017,” which Congressman John Faso (R-Kinderhook) introduced on September 19 — would, for projects involving federal money, preclude the imposition of absolute liability on owners and general contractors by permitting a court or jury to consider the comparative negligence of the injured worker. This would not fully eliminate absolute liability, but would, according to industry experts, lead to an improvement in the state’s construction liability insurance market. According to Michael Elmendorf, President and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of New York State, this improvement “would present such a stark contrast in costs and liability … that it would create insurmountable pressure to reform the rest of the law.”

The bill still needs a sponsor in the Senate, and opposition by the plaintiff’s bar is sure to be full-throated. We will continue to monitor the bill’s progress and update you.

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