Despite the presence of state and federal laws designed to make these environments safer, there has never been a more dangerous time to be a construction worker in New York City.
New York City has long been synonymous with dangerous construction sites. 30 workers died building the Brooklyn Bridge, and 70 perished during construction on the Twin Towers. In 2008, reformers introduced a number of laws in response to a rash of construction worker deaths. But the death rate has doubled since then. One reason is lack of enforcement: most inspectors do not visit a site unless an incident is reported. Furthermore, although buildings under 10 stories represent 95 percent of the sites, city oversight is much more lax for these projects.
Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler is confident that improvements under Mayor De Blasio will begin to take effect soon.
In addition to the factors mentioned above, the presence of non-English speaking workers is another significant issue. Generally speaking, you do not have to be a citizen to bring a negligence action in court.
In all this turmoil, the scaffolding law is one of the most important bulwarks for worker safety. This law, or rather, the way the courts have interpreted this law, holds general contractors strictly liable for construction injuries and deaths. According to a recent New York Court of Appeals case, the employer is strictly liable for damages that are the “direct consequence” of an elevation-related risk. That matter involved a ladder that slipped on a piece of ice. In another case, however, the court broadened the law by applying it to billboards in addition to buildings. A lower court erroneously ruled that billboards were cosmetic and not covered by the law.
The scaffolding law is different from workers’ compensation, in that victims who sue under Labor Law § 240 are eligible for additional compensation. Injured workers may still be able to pursue a workers’ compensation claim against the employer, because the defendant is different.
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