The answer to this question, like most everything in the context of a personal injury lawsuit, is that “it depends”. On the bright side, the laws of New York State relating to construction accidents have been written in a manner that is very protective of workers on job sites, and especially so as to workers who suffer injuries from “gravity-related” accidents such as falling from a scaffold. However, to obtain compensation for even the most devastating and life-altering construction injuries, injured workers must prove that their case qualifies pursuant to stringent and exacting legal tests that have been set up by the courts to evaluate whether compensation is due in any particular construction accident lawsuit. By using the example of a worker who has fallen from a scaffold on a New York construction site and sustained injuries thereby, this article hopes to educate readers about some of the legal hurdles that must be cleared in order to obtain compensation in a New York construction accident lawsuit.
Imagine that the following are the specific facts of the case: A worker was spraying insulation foam on a construction job site; the purpose of the job, globally, was to perform a gut renovation of a warehouse building to convert it from a self-storage facility to a car dealership. To perform his work, the worker had to work atop a baker scaffold, which was six feet high and which featured no railings around its edges. The worker further was not provided with a lanyard/lifeline to prevent him from hitting the ground should he fall from the scaffold. While spraying the insulation foam, the worker trips on the hose through which he is pumping spraying the foam, causing him to fall from the scaffold and land on his rear end. He suffers a burst fracture to his lumbar spine, leaving him permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
If this case were to be brought in any state apart from New York, it is very likely that the injured worker’s case would not be successful. This is because, generally, other states require, in such a case, that the plaintiff demonstrate that a dangerous condition – such as a rotten plank in a scaffold platform which broke under the weight of the worker himself – of which the defendants had prior notice (whether actual or constructive) caused the accident if the plaintiff is to recover compensation. In our example, because there was arguably no dangerous condition of which any conceivable defendant would have had prior notice, it is not unlikely that the worker in our example would be left empty handed if he brought a case. Though it is arguable that the absence of scaffold safety railings in our example was a dangerous condition of which, say, the general contractor on the job site might have had prior notice, this is by no means an easy thing to prove; and, certainly, this would be almost impossible to prove as against a defendant such as the owner of the job site, who likely had no day-to-day involvement in the construction job during which the plaintiff was injured. Also, under the laws of most states, the injured plaintiff himself could be partially, or entirely, blamed for this accident if he were found to have been careless or negligent in causing his own accident due to the application of the legal concept of “comparative negligence”.
Under New York law, however, this same circumstance presents a very strong case against any owners and “general contractors” of the job site on which the accident took place. This is because New York has in its laws two very unique statutes – known as Labor Law Section 240 (the “Scaffold Law”), and Labor Law Section 241(6) – which do away with the usual legal requirements applicable to accidents such as that occurring in our example (with respect to, for example, prior notice of a dangerous condition, and also with respect to “comparative negligence” as to Labor Law Section 240) and hold owners and “general contractors” on job sites responsible for workers’ accidents where it can be shown that the absence of safety devices, or the conducting of the work on the job site in a manner inconsistent with certain specified construction safety standards, was a substantial factor in causing a particular construction accident. These laws effectively transfer the obligation to ensure safety on construction sites away from workers, placing the burden on owners and “general contractors” – those in the best position to provide a safe working environment to workers and adequate protection from the unique workplace hazards existing on construction sites – to ensure against serious injuries to workers on the job.
Applying these special New York laws to our example, the worker would be able to bring claims under both Labor Law Section 240, and Labor Law Section 241(6). As to his Labor Law Section 240 claims, the worker would be able not only to likely win his case, but also to obtain “summary judgment”/”judgment as a matter of law” (a decision in his favor made by a judge before a trial even begins) against the owner and “general contractor” of the job site upon proving that the absence of safety railings on the scaffold was a substantial factor in his falling from it. As to his Labor Law Section 241(6) claims, the worker would also likely be successful for the same reasons. As you can see, these important features of New York law are much more protective of workers than the laws of other states. In the hands of top quality New York personal injury lawyers, these laws can be used to the advantage of the injured to hold those responsible accountable in court, and to ensure that injured workers are properly compensated for their injuries. Contact us today at (718) 354-8000 if you or a loved one have suffered an injury on a New York construction site. We will help you learn how these important laws may entitle you and your family to compensation.