N.Y. Businesses Renew Call for Reform of ‘Scaffold Law’

June 8, 2007

Business associations and groups representing New York’s agriculture sector and construction industry have again urged Governor Eliot Spitzer and state legislators to reform New York’s so-called “scaffold law.”

The scaffold law — also known as sections 240/241 of the Labor Law — imposes absolute liability on New York’s property-owners and contractors in cases of worksite injuries.

“This means that, in claims stemming from worksite injuries, these owners and contractors cannot even defend themselves by introducing evidence of their own commitment to safety or of worker negligence,” said Kenneth Adams, president and CEO of The Business Council.

“In this way, New York State has abandoned the common-sense fairness standard of letting people defend themselves against accusations,” Adams added. “The effects of the scaffold law are nasty: inflated business insurance costs, and higher costs of goods, services, and taxes for all New Yorkers.”

The business and farm groups want the absolute-liability standard replaced by a negligence-based standard. Such reforms, sought for years, have stalled in Albany, despite concerns over how the law hurts the state’s business climate. Lawmakers are scheduled to break for the summer in two weeks.

“Liability insurance costs more in New York State than anywhere else, which gets passed on to taxpayers to the tune of thousands of extra dollars in construction costs on homes and public projects. This law is hurting taxpayers and costing our state jobs. It needs to be changed,” contends Chris Wiest, vice president of public policy for the Rochester Business Alliance and a representative of Unshackle Upstate.

The law affects farmers by increasing construction costs of agricultural buildings, including dairy barns, milking parlors, cold storage facilities, packing houses, and other large structures, according to farmers.

“Farm Bureau continues to make repeal of the onerous scaffold law a high priority for the end of session,” said Julie Suarez, director of public policy for New York Farm Bureau. “We cannot let this law further erode the business climate of Upstate New York, which desperately needs to see increased investment in the agricultural and related agricultural business sector of the economy.”

Home builders also joined the call for reform.

“The legislative solution we seek is a simple and equitable one: Allow contractors and subcontractors who engage in safe construction practice to defend themselves in court. Those contractors who don’t train, equip, and manage safely will continue to be subject to the absolute liability standard of the existing law,” added Jeffrey Zogg, executive director of the General Building Contractors of New York State.

Source The Business Council

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