February 18, 2014
By Howard A. Raphaelson Esq.
New York's scaffold law and the safety of New York Workers is under attack. Unfortunately the powerful insurance industry has the ear of the governor’s office and lawmakers. While the backdrop of the change is most political and likely unrelated to the labor law, the crux of the attack is to change labor law 240 known as the scaffold law from a strict liability statute to one that has comparative fault.
Proponents of change to labor law 240 argue that no defenses to the law exist and a change which would include comparative fault is necessary. In fact two defenses to labor law 240 do exist. They are the sole proximate cause defense and the recalcitrant worker defense. Those defenses hold workers responsible for their own injuries when they are on site, told to use available safety equipment and fail to use same.
In one of the more unscrupulous stories reported in support of the change in the law, minorities and women are being portrayed as victims of the law. Proponents that want the legislation amended argue that the law directly causes increases in insurance premiums which result in less income to build and develop new jobs for minorities and women.
It is hard to imagine how those attacking the law can portray New York's building and development as stagnant and limiting new jobs for minorities and women , when New York is the Industrial Capital of the World. Everywhere you go there are scaffolds, cranes, derricks and workers building our great city and doing it under conditions that require extreme safety. Labor Law 240 is a tough law, but it is a law that these tough workers deserve, demand and need and many of them are in fact minorities and women on the job. More to the point there is no proof that this law causes a decrease in minority and female workers or for that matter any workers at all. In fact, no proof of any rise in insurance costs and the effects it has caused builders and developers has ever been offered by any party. Wealthy insurance companies are driving this propaganda, not builders and developers.
New York Construction workers are at the heart of the building and development of our great state and any attack against protections afforded them is a failure on the part of our legislatures and lawmakers.