Court Limits Application of New York Scaffold Law

A New York court recently ruled against an injured iron worker who brought a claim under the state’s Scaffold Law. The Oakes v. Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust case was decided in July 2012, and it serves to clarify the reach of the Scaffold Law and the construction accident scenarios it applies to.

Background of the New York Construction Accident

The plaintiff in the suit was a supervisor at a construction site. At the time of the construction accident, he was directing the placement of steel components, and walking between two 30 foot long steel trusses which were being stored upright.

At the same time, another worker was operating a forklift. When the forklift went over a “soft spot” on the ground its wheel sank several inches. The load the forklift was hauling shifted sideways, striking one of the vertical trusses. The truss then fell over and pinned the plaintiff against the second truss, crushing his legs.

New York’s Scaffold Law

New York’s Labor Law 240 is commonly known as the “Scaffold Law.” The law requires that property owners and general contractors follow proper procedures and provide adequate safety equipment to protect construction workers from elevation-related hazards. Besides requiring that scaffolding is safe, the law also requires that hoists, ladders and other similar devices properly protect workers.

Under the law, general contractors and property owners cannot delegate this duty to others, such as subcontractors. Owners and general contractors are responsible if a worker injures him or herself due to a failure to provide safe conditions or proper safety equipment.

Courts have broadly applied the law to risks on construction sites “arising from a physically significant elevation differential.” Falling objects have also been included under the law when they are considered “elevation-related hazards.” The law’s reach does not extend, however, to “the usual and ordinary dangers of a construction site.” In sum, if an accident is related to the special hazards of a construction site’s elevation, the law and its protections are generally found to apply.

Recent Decision

The Supreme Court, Appellate Division of New York found that the Scaffold Law did not apply to the construction accident described above because a difference in elevation did not cause the accident. Both the worker and the truss were at the same level, and the mere fact that the truss fell was not enough to make the Scaffold Law apply. The court ruled that the accident was due to the ordinary dangers of a construction site.

The court frequently referred to the Ross v. Curtis-Palmer Hydro-Elec. Co. case, which also clarified the types of occupational hazards that are covered by New York’s Scaffold Law. The Ross case was handled by George Sarachan, and is often cited by courts dealing with Scaffold Law issues and claims related to New York’s Labor Law sections 240 and 241.

Future Impact

Although New York’s Scaffold Law was not found to apply in these circumstances, the law still offers powerful protections for construction workers. Workers involved in elevation-related accidents have the ability to hold responsible parties accountable for their injuries and suffering. If you have been injured in a construction site accident, an experienced New York construction accident attorney can provide further guidance about potential claims.