The Business Council of New York State strongly supports the above captioned legislation which would allow for a comparative negligence standard to be used for actions brought under Labor Law Section 240/241.
Sections 240 and 241 of the Labor Law, which date back to the late 1800s, provide that if a worker is injured on the job as a result of falling from a height, or being hit with something that falls from a height, the owner and the contractor are absolutely liable. This is true even if the worker is at fault – for example, if the worker refused to use safety equipment or was impaired by drugs or alcohol. No other state maintains such a law — except New York.
What makes these sections of the law such a significant problem is that they impose a condition of absolute liability on the owner and/or contractor for injuries proximately caused, without regard to either negligence or comparative negligence and irrespective of any lack of control or direction of the work. No other state recognizes, either by legislation or under the common law, such a cause of action. The State of Illinois, effective in February 1995, repealed its ‘Structural Work Act,' which was comparable to the New York's law.
It should be noted that it is not just the construction industry that is impacted by 240/241. Owners having work done on their premises have also had to pay large judgments under 240/241, even though the injured worker was employed by a subcontractor. The laws have affected not only the construction community but, manufacturers, commercial property owners, as well as private home owners who employ contractors for home improvements.
The Business Council of New York State has long urged the Legislature to reform Sections 240 and 241 of the Labor Law, the so-called “scaffold law.” For the last several years various legislative proposals designed to amend or repeal Sections 240 and 241 of the Labor Law have failed to pass, or even be debated in, the Legislature. While the Legislature has failed to act to correct the inequities associated with this law, contractors, unable to defend themselves in lawsuits (due to the indefensible nature afforded them under the absolute standard of the law), continue to experience ever escalating insurance rates.
Under the proposed legislation, A.2528 / S4317, a new Section 1414 is added to the Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) which states that contractors who provide safety training and equipment, including OSHA safety courses, have the right to demonstrate in court that the worker contributed to the injury and therefore utilize the CPLR's contributory negligence standard. Only if a contractor proves that the worker failed to use the safety equipment provided, disobeyed safety directions, or worked while under the influence of drugs or alcohol would the contributory negligence rule be invoked. This is a fair and equitable approach that insures both the safety of the workers and the workplace as well as a course of defense for responsible contractors.
The Business Council strongly supports this legislation and urges its adoption.