Senator Gallivan Sponsors Legislation to Reform the “Scaffold Law”

Business community, lawmakers revive movement to repeal one of nation’s most regressive laws

“New York State is routinely hailed as one of the most adverse environments in the nation for creating jobs, retaining jobs, or attracting jobs. To change that, New York needs to examine its own regulations and red tape that deter private sector growth and investment – beginning with the state’s burdensome Scaffold Law,” said Senator Patrick M. Gallivan (R-Elma). The Senator joined with groups from across the state today to announce his sponsorship of a bill, S.6816, to reform New York’s antiquated and costly Scaffold Law. The law, which exists only in New York, holds property owners and contractors fully liable for workplace accidents, regardless of fault. The bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, seeks to address this issue.

“New York State is the only state in the nation that imposes total liability for all elevated workplace injuries on contractors, builders, and business owners, driving up insurance premiums on all construction projects. Reforming the Scaffold Law to allow for comparative negligence will level the playing field and reduce mandated costs for small businesses, farms, manufacturers, municipalities, and school districts – and ultimately – taxpayers.” added Senator Gallivan.

The high cost of insurance in New York makes it very difficult for companies to grow and add jobs. “Since repealing its own Scaffold Law in 1995, Illinois has created close to 50,000 new construction jobs. I am proud to work with, and stand with, the group assembled here today to bring that level of economic growth to New York.” said the Senator.

Senator Gallivan’s reform bill, which is sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman Joseph D. Morelle (D-Irondequoit), would allow defendants to present evidence in their defense if an injured worker was intoxicated, violating safety standards or committing a criminal act. “Every other state has some kind of comparative negligence standard. In New York, the law assumes fault without looking at any evidence – that goes against the most basic principles of justice. The fact that we still have this law on the books is a key reason why our insurance rates are three, four, even ten times higher than most other states,” said Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.

The law also drives up the cost of public projects, which is ultimately passed along to taxpayers. New York Conference of Mayors Executive Director Peter Baynes noted, “At a time when communities all across the state are facing some of their greatest fiscal challenges, any efforts to protect local governments from additional financial exposure by affording them their right to due process must be given the utmost consideration. Passage of this bill would go a long way toward fulfilling the promise to provide local governments with meaningful mandate relief.”

While many personal injury lawyers have touted the law as essential to worker safety, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals the opposite. In Illinois, workplace fatalities dropped by 30% in the six years following the repeal of their Scaffold Law. The proposed legislation does not limit a worker’s ability to sue for injuries or the amount they can recover, and does not restrict workers’ compensation benefits. “Reforming the law is plain common sense. Evidence shows us this will create jobs, stimulate the economy, and potentially improve safety.” said Stebbins.

Mike Elmendorf, President/CEO Associated General Contractors of New York State said, “Reforming New York’s outdated and costly Scaffold Law is not only long overdue, but necessary to rebuild New York’s infrastructure and economy. It is a fundamental issue of fairness: Only in New York are those who may not be responsible for an injury held liable anyway. Reforming the Scaffold Law by giving contractors and others their day in court–where actual liability can be determined–will reduce the cost of construction, create jobs and promote greater workplace safety. At the same time that New York struggles with staggering infrastructure needs we cannot afford, we continue to perpetuate a flawed law that unnecessarily drives up those costs. There is no excuse for New York to remain the only state in the nation with such an antiquated and indefensible law on the books. The time for reform is now,” said Mike Elmendorf, President and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of New York State (AGC NYS).

Heather Briccetti, President/CEO Business Council of New York State said, “Now is the time to address this antiquated barrier to investment and job creation. The current Scaffold Law does not provide a safer work place, but it does result in less work places, higher costs and higher taxes. New York has an innovative, dynamic and progressive economy that can grow if this archaic hindrance is addressed. This legislation offers a fair and reasonable solution, when an employee has made the worksite unsafe by committing a crime, using drugs or alcohol, or failed to properly use safety devices, while still providing protection for responsible workers. We thank those who support this legislation especially, Senator Gallivan and Assemblyman Morelle.”