New York Scaffold Law

In New York, a violation of the Scaffold Law occurs where a scaffold is inadequate in and of itself to protect workers against the elevation-related hazards encountered while dismantling that device, and it is the only safety devise supplied, as indicated in Labor Law § 240. When injury occurs due to a violation of the Scaffold Law, there is a question concerning contributory negligence as a bar to recovery against workers that negligently build or dismantle scaffold. However, even if a worker was negligent in moving materials while dismantling sections of scaffold, causing the scaffold to become unbalanced so as to tip and cause a worker to fall to the ground, such action would render the worker merely contributorily negligent, which is a defense unavailable under the Scaffold Law. Defendants who fail to provide workers who are dismantling scaffolding with any additional safety device are considered the proximate cause of injuries to any workers injured when scaffold fails and causes workers to fall to the ground.

In Calderon v. Walgreen Co. (2010), a worker brought action for personal injuries under the Scaffold Law and Labor Law, alleging he sustained injuries when scaffold he was dismantling tipped backward, causing him to fall to the ground. The Supreme Court granted the plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment, and denied in part the defendant’s cross motion for summary judgment, holding that 1) the defendant’s failure to provide workers with any additional safety device was the proximate cause of injuries; 2) the defense of contributory negligence is not available under the Scaffold Law; and 3) industrial code provisions were sufficient to support Labor Law liability. Defendant (Walgreen) failed to raise a triable issue of fact with respect to a violation of the Scaffold Law and the defendant’s liability for proximate causation of injury.

In Cody v. State of New York (2008), it was held that a violation of Labor Law § 240 occurs where a scaffold is inadequate to protect workers against elevation-related hazards encountered while dismantling that device, and it is the only safety devise supplied. Furthermore, in Gizowski v. State of New York (2009), it was held that even assuming, arguendo, that the plaintiff was negligent in moving materials to the back of the scaffold, thereby causing the scaffold to become unbalanced, the actions of the plaintiff render him contributorily negligent, a defense unavailable under Labor Law § 240.

In accordance with the courts view on contributory negligence in litigation involving the Scaffold Law and Labor Law, it was found in Blake v. Neighborhood Hous. Servs. of N.Y. City (2003) that because the plaintiff establishes that a statutory violation was a proximate cause of their injuries, the plaintiff cannot be solely to blame for the injuries incurred. A triable issue of fact exists whenever the alleged violation of those regulations proximately caused a plaintiff’s injuries.

Both contractors and property owners are placed under absolute liability when in violation of the Scaffold Law. Under Labor Law §240(1), “strict liability” is contingent on a finding that the law was violated and that such violation was the proximate cause of the worker’s injury. In Hall v. Conway (1997), a property owner that fails to ensure proper placement of equipment or use of any safety precautions, violating the Scaffold Law, gives rise to an absolute liability claim.  In Aruck v. Xerox Corp. (1989), a worker who fell upon a mobile scissor scaffold was entitled to summary judgment on the issue of liability, imposing absolute liability on the owners and contractors to provide safe scaffolding for workers. With this in mind, it is always considered good practice for general contractors to put their insurance providers on notice when an injury occurs due to a possible violation of the Scaffold Law, whether or not they believe the injury is their fault.

However, a homeowners exception is available to protect homeowners from liability when a violation of the Scaffold Law occurs, causing injury to a worker. In Edgar v. Montechiari (2000), it was held that a homeowner’s limited involvement in work on their one-family home entitled them to protection under the homeowner’s exception in a personal injury action in which a worker fell from a ladder because the homeowner’s involvement was that of any homeowner whose house was being remodeled, their concerns being limited to cosmetic appearance of the finished structure.

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