New York City and the Bronx are home to many of the tallest buildings and largest construction projects in the world. Workers on construction sites in the Bronx and New York City are exposed, on a daily basis, to uniquely dangerous risks relating to the extremely high elevations at which their work often must be performed. It is no secret within the construction trades that gravity-related accidents – such as falling from a scaffold, falling through an uncovered hole, or being struck with a falling object – often result in devastating injuries ranging from broken bones to traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries that can leave Bronx construction workers disabled and incapable of earning a living to support their families.
Usually, devastating gravity-related accidents occur because owners and general contractors on construction sites in the Bronx and all across New York City – those in the best position to ensure worker safety – fail to provide workers with the proper safety equipment to mitigate the risks of working at an elevation. It is for this reason that the laws of New York State, for over 100 years, have afforded special legal protections to workers exposed to the unique gravity-related hazards that are present on New York City construction sites. If you or a loved one are injured in a construction accident involving gravity-related hazards such as a fall from a height or being struck with a falling object, our team of expert Bronx construction accident attorneys offers unparalleled expertise in using the New York construction laws to secure you the compensation that you need and deserve.
“The Scaffold Law” – New York Labor Law Section 240.
Section 240 of the New York Labor Law – known as the “Scaffold Law” – was originally passed by the New York State Legislature in 1885, and has evolved over time to provide extraordinary legal protections to construction workers who are injured in “gravity-related” construction accidents in the Bronx and New York City. For nearly 130 years, the legislature has recognized that construction workers are not in a position to ensure that the proper safety measures are taken – such as by providing well-conditioned and proper safety equipment – to mitigate the dangers presented by working at an elevation on a construction site. In its current form, the Scaffold Law requires that owners and general contractors provide appropriate safety devices to construction workers to guard against the risks of elevation-related injuries, and ascribes absolute liability for elevation-related accidents caused by a failure to provide these safety devices. The Scaffold Law is a unique creation of New York State law, and no other state has gone so far to protect workers who are injured in gravity-related accidents.
Despite its name, the Scaffold Law does not apply only to Bronx construction accidents that involve scaffolds, but has been expanded by the New York courts to apply to nearly any construction accident that involves an injury caused by an elevation differential or the application of the force of gravity to an object or a person’s body. Circumstances that can give rise to Scaffold Law liability include ladder accidents, falling-object accidents, falls into open holes and, of course, scaffold accidents. Because of the expansive reading of the modern day Scaffold Law as applied by New York courts, it is often the case that accidents that do not involve quintessential elevation-related hazards (such as falling off of a scaffold) may qualify for the extraordinary protections of the Scaffold Law. If you are injured in an accident involving any elevation differential whatsoever, you should consult with our team of experienced Bronx construction accident lawyers to determine if you are entitled to compensation under the Scaffold Law.
What is the Legal Test for a “Scaffold Law” Claim?
To have a successful “Scaffold Law” claim, an injured Bronx construction worker must prove that (i) he or she was hired to work on the job site in question, (ii) the work that was ongoing at the time of the accident was among the types of work (e.g., construction, demolition, painting, cleaning, pointing) that qualify for “Scaffold Law” protection, (iii) that the injury-producing accident involved an “elevation-related” or “gravity-related” hazard, (iv) that the application of the force of gravity (whether to the body of the injured worker, or to an object that fell and struck the injured worker) actually caused the accident, and (v) that a proper safety device that could have prevented the accident was not provided to the injured worker. Usually, Scaffold Law cases are won and lost on the questions of whether the accident actually involved an “elevation-related” or “gravity-related” hazard, and whether the accident was of a type that a safety device could have actually prevented.
Once an injured Bronx construction worker proves these elements, the only defense to a Scaffold Law claim is that the injured worker was the “sole proximate cause” of his or her accident. This defense requires proof not only that the injured worker was negligent and contributed to causing the accident by their own negligent conduct, but also that: (a) the defendants provided the injured worker with the proper safety equipment that the worker entirely refused, for no good reason, to use, (b) the worker knew that he or she was expected to use the particular safety device in a specific manner but did not do so without justification, (c) use of the safety device in question would have actually prevented the accident, (d) there was no other safety device that should have been furnished by the defendants that could have prevented or mitigated the accident, and (e) apart from the injured worker’s failure to use the particular safety device, there was no other concurrent cause of the accident.
Often, Scaffold Law claims, unlike many other types of New York construction accident claims, can result in “summary judgment” being granted to the injured worker so long as all of the elements of the claim are properly proven. “Summary judgment” refers to a ruling by a judge, rather than a decision by a jury, on the entire merits of a case; it results either in the case being dismissed, or, in the case of a successful Scaffold Law summary judgment motion, being decided in the plaintiff’s favor on a final basis. In the context of Scaffold Law claims, when a plaintiff is granted “summary judgment”, the defendants are deemed liable for the accident as a matter of law, leaving only the question of the amount of compensation owed to the plaintiff for decision by a jury at trial.
How are “Scaffold Law” Claims Different From Other Construction Accident Claims?
Construction injuries involving claims under the Scaffold Law are different from other construction accident claims in several critical ways. Once a violation of the Scaffold Law is established to have caused a construction accident, the owners of the job site and the general contractor will be held “absolutely liable” for any injuries proximately caused by that accident. “Absolute liability” means both that any negligence on the part of an injured worker is irrelevant (i.e., a jury may not consider whether the injured worker was negligent in causing his own accident), and that the owners and general contractors cannot negatively impact the plaintiff’s case by attempting to blame third-parties, such as subcontractors (including at the plaintiff’s employer), for a Scaffold Law accident at trial.
It is also generally true that, in every other type of construction accident lawsuit, the defendants are entitled to point the finger directly at the injured worker and claim that the plaintiff is partially responsible for the accident, thus reducing the amount of compensation that the defendants are obligated to pay to an injured worker. The Scaffold Law does not allow for this “comparative negligence” defense. For this reason, the Scaffold Law provides unique protections to injured Bronx construction workers because it ensures that they are fully compensated if a qualifying construction accident occurs.
The Scaffold Law’s “absolute liability” scheme also prevents owners and general contractors from blaming third parties (such as their sub-contractors or the plaintiff’s employer) for a construction injury accident. The Scaffold Law creates a strict obligation for owners and general contractors – those in the best position to enforce safe construction practices and safety protocols on construction sites – to ensure that appropriate safety measures are taken to protect construction workers throughout New York City and the Bronx. Even if the owner or general contractor had nothing to do with the work that was ongoing at the time of a qualifying accident, the Scaffold Law holds them responsible. In many other types of construction accident lawsuits, unless the owner or general contractor either had notice of a dangerous condition on a job site, or directed and controlled the manner of the work that was ongoing when the accident occurred, there can be no liability. The Scaffold Law disregards these defenses, and creates strict liability for any qualifying accident regardless of whether the owner or general contractor was even present on the job site when the accident occurred, or realistically could have done anything to prevent it.
How are “Scaffold Law” Claims Proven in Court?
To prove a Scaffold Law claim, expert opinions must be obtained addressing both the nature of the accident-producing risk (i.e., whether the plaintiff was actually exposed to a gravity-related or elevation-related hazard), and whether a particular safety device would have prevented the accident. The proper experts to provide these opinions are generally licensed engineers, or construction site safety professionals. The expert must be chosen carefully, and must have sufficient experience working on construction sites to be able to give opinions regarding construction site safety in an authoritative manner. Our firm has a network of professional engineers and construction safety experts who will examine your Bronx construction injury case and determine whether your have a viable Scaffold Law claim if you are injured due to falling from a height or being struck with a falling object on a construction site in New York City and the Bronx.