Advocacy groups representing businesses, developers, insurers, builders, contractors and taxpayers continues to ask for a change in the state Scaffold Law, particularly in light of the planned $5.2 billion project to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge. The coalition sent a letter to the chairman and the director of the Thruway Authority, asking for their help in working with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers to “reform” the law.
The law, which dates to 1885, holds contractors and property owners fully liable in lawsuits for gravity-related injuries, even when worker negligence contributes to accidents. The coalition wants the law amended so liability is determined according to each party’s proportion of fault. Members are not proposing to limit workers’ ability to sue or the amount they could recover. They are not asking to eliminate existing safety standards, they said.
The coalition cites estimates by insurers that the law will add more than $100 million to the cost of the new bridge. Amending the law would reduce the need for large toll hikes, members say. The Thruway Authority said the cash toll for the new bridge would increase from $5 to $14, with discounts for commuters and E-ZPass users.
Unions oppose changes to the Scaffold Law. Mario Cilento, president of the AFL-CIO in New York, said in a statement this spring that union members must work to “defeat attempts to roll back workers protections, like the recent calls to gut the Scaffold Law.”
Legislation to modify the law died in the Assembly and Senate this year.
“It’s time for New York to reform this outdated law and rebuild both its infrastructure and economy. These changes would make for safer construction and instead of having scarce infrastructure dollars eaten up by crushing liability costs and costly and often questionable lawsuits, would have more of them go into roads and bridges, bricks and mortar and job creation,” said Mike Elmendorf, president and CEO of Associated General Contractors of New York State.
The coalition noted that Illinois repealed its Scaffold Law in 1995 and has since experienced a 25 percent increase in construction employement and a 26 percent drop in construction site fatalities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Thruway Authority Scaffold Law Letter 8-13-2012 FINAL (2)