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New York's Scaffold Law Lets Injured Construction Workers Sue Employers

A 55-year-old New York City construction worker was unable to return to work after he fell off a ladder in 2005, but he sued his employer and won the money he needed to meet his medical needs and pay his bills. The worker’s suit was possible because of the state Scaffold Safety Law, which requires property owners and contractors to protect the safety of workers.

The New York Daily News recently told the worker’s story in a report on efforts to preserve the law. The worker, who moved to New York from Mexico 14 years ago, was working at a Bronx warehouse in 2005 when he fell, breaking his spine, right knee and right foot.

He reported that the ladder he was using was old and in poor condition, and he blamed his employer for failing to maintain safe equipment.

The century-old Scaffold Safety Law provides a means for injured workers to sue their employers for negligence. In most other workplace accidents, the limited benefits available through workers’ compensation are the only option.

Study Findings

According to the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, 23 construction workers across the state lost their lives in occupational accidents in 2013. In a study examining New York’s Workplace Deaths and the Construction Industry released on April 28, the NYCOSH paid tribute to those workers.

The study found:

  • Construction was the deadliest industry in New York, and the majority of workers killed on the job were immigrants.
  • Many construction deaths and nonfatal injuries could have been prevented with proper safety measures in place.
  • Many construction accidents involved workers 55 years old and older.
  • Self-employed workers died in disproportionate numbers.
  • OSHA fines are too small to provide incentives for keeping workplaces safe.
  • Currently there are only 71 OSHA Safety and Health inspectors in New York.

Serious Injuries

NYCOSH cites falls as the greatest safety hazard for construction workers, and falling off a ladder is one of the most common types of manufacturing and construction accidents.

Workers fall from ladders of all kinds: step ladders, extension ladders with rubber or metal feet, rolling safety ladders and platform steps. Each type of ladder has its own safety measures, and the measures must be followed.

When construction workers fall, they often suffer serious, debilitating injuries, including broken feet, ankles, legs, arms and other bones. Back injuries, including crushed or severed spinal cords, paralysis, or even death can result. These devastating injuries may require surgery and months, years or a lifetime of lost income, pain and suffering, and medical expenses. Workers who die from falls often leave grief-stricken families without a means of financial support.

The Scaffold Safety Law requires property owners and contractors to provide safe and appropriate equipment, including personal fall-arrest systems for anyone working at heights. Under the law, ladders on a New York construction site must be braced, tied down or secured before a worker can climb up or down or work from them. An unsecured ladder is a tragedy waiting to happen.

Employees injured in construction site accidents are usually entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, but often those benefits don’t go far enough, especially if they suffer life-changing injuries.

If a ladder falls, fails or collapses, or if a worker falls from a ladder because he or she was not properly secured, the Scaffold Safety Law may allow him or her to file a lawsuit against the owner of the worksite, the general contractor or other contractors or subcontractors.

If you are suffering due to a fall because of someone else’s negligence at work, you may be entitled to bring a lawsuit against your employer or a third party, such as a contractor or property owner. Contact us today.

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