Construction workers face significant hazards at every jobsite, even when an employer or construction company takes all necessary and available safety measures. New York State has recognized that construction work is a dangerous occupation even when safety measures are strictly enforced. As far back as 1885 New York State has been a leader in addressing the most hazardous situation construction workers face, falls from heights, by passing a “no-excuse” law designed to hold those in control of the site responsible (liable) for any injury sustained when the law is violated. This law, originally called the scaffold law, has been greatly expanded over the past 135 years so that it applies to any worker who sustains injury from a fall, whether from a scaffold, ladder, roof, or other type of elevated working surface.
Responsibility, under this law (statute) is not based upon fault as with other states’ construction laws. All that needs to be shown is that one of the safety devices listed in the statute (i.e. “… scaffolding, hoist, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes or other devices …”) was either not provided or if provided was inadequate to prevent the fall. Because the law must be followed, it is not based upon the notion of fault, therefore, comparative negligence on the part of the worker cannot be used as a defense or to reduce the amount of damages the worker is entitled to. The liability is absolute and cannot be avoided no matter how logical or persuasive the excuse may be.
There is another important advantage to this law. The statute makes all owners of the land where the construction takes place as well as all contractors absolutely liable for any violations of the law.
This law negates the common legal defense often used in construction accident cases called the “Independent Contractor Rule”. Here is how it works: let’s say an owner of land wants to develop it by erecting a new office building. It hires a general contractor to erect the building. Under the general principles of negligence law, a person or contractor can only be held responsible to provide a safe place to work if they have the ability to direct and control the manner and method of the work. By carefully wording the contract, owners can then avoid liability by delegating (assigning) the duty to provide a safe workplace to the general contractor. This creates an incentive, when the work begins, for owners to avoid directing or controlling the construction activities, especially when it comes to safety on the site. Owners then become immune from any unsafe work conditions.
In turn, the general contractor can delegate the duty to provide a safe place to work through a subcontract, let’s say to a roofing company, to provide the roofers who will actually install the roof with adequate safety devices. Under Workers Compensation laws, if an employer has workers compensation insurance for its employees, an injured employee cannot bring suit against his/her employer. If one of the roofers falls from a ladder when it kicks out, the injured worker cannot sue his employer for not providing an adequately placed ladder because the worker’s compensation laws prohibit it and he cannot sue the owner or the general contractor since they no longer have any duty to provide the roofer with a safe workplace, having delegated the duty onto the employer. The end result is that the injured employee is left with only his worker’s compensation benefits. New York Courts have held that New York’s Construction Accident Law, now called Section 240 of the Labor Law, was intended to close this loophole by making all owners and their contractors absolutely liable. They can no longer avoid responsibility under the “Independent Contractor Rule”.
It is important for construction workers and their families in Albany, Syracuse and Rochester, to know that New York Construction Accident Laws provide a remedy in situations where section 240 of the Labor Law has been violated even when it is the injured worker’s employer that has the contractual obligation to provide the safety devices. Moreover, if the employer assigns the responsibility to erect proper safety devices to the roofer who is subsequently injured, the owner and general contractor will still be liable since the negligence of the injured roofer cannot be used as a defense.
Another benefit to this law is the scope of the work that it will apply to. The statute makes all owners and contractors responsible for injuries which occur whenever construction, erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure is taking place. Over the years, New York Courts have held that this law applies to injuries which happen to workers who are performing repair work such as fixing a broken air conditioner, installing internet cables above a drop ceiling, cleaning windows in a commercial building and many other types of work. The work also does not have to be on a building. The law applies to work upon structures such as boats, utility lines, billboards, water towers, bridges or any other object which are made of assembled parts.
New York has another powerful construction accident law called section 241 Labor Law. This law was used by the federal government as a model for the OSHA construction standards. There is a big difference however, all owners and their contractors are responsible for any injuries caused by the violation of one of New York’s Industrial Coder Rules (12 NYCRR 23) whether or not the owner and/or contractor delegated the duty to another, making the “Independent Contractor Rule” not applicable.
At Powers & Santola, LLP, we regularly represent injured construction workers and their families in various types of construction accident claims, Dan Santola one of the senior partner has been involved in the development of construction accident laws since 1975 having argued the case which first held that the law applies a strict, non-delegable duty on all owners and their contractors. Dan has also authored the leading text book on litigating construction accident cases in New York. He has lectured on this topic before numerous bar associations, lawyers and Judges over the past 40 years. The following are five of the most common construction site accidents that can result in serious worker injuries.
Falls on Construction Sites
Falls are the leading cause of serious injury and death on construction sites. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), falls are one of the “fatal four,” or the four most common causes of deadly accidents on construction sites, followed by being struck by objects, electrocutions, and crush injuries. In total, falls account for nearly 34 percent of all fatal construction accidents every year, and these accidents can involve both slips and falls and falls from heights.
Injuries Caused by Heavy Equipment
Excavators, cranes, dozers, back hoes, dump trucks, man lifts and the many other pieces of heavy equipment used on construction sites are a major source of injury. New York Rules cover a broad range of dangers such as requiring that only trained personnel operate such equipment, spotters must be used when the operator’s vision is obstructed, broken or faulty equipment must be immediately taken out of service, and many other such rules must be followed. Construction workers can also suffer life-threatening injuries when heavy materials fall from heights striking workers below. There are many ways to avoid these types of accidents, including proper safety barriers and appropriate safety equipment. This type of accident is responsible for more than 11 percent of all construction fatalities, according to OSHA.
Construction Site Electrocutions
Electrocutions are almost entirely preventable, yet are the third-leading cause of construction accident deaths. According to OSHA, electrocutions result in more than 8 percent of all deadly construction accidents. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 105 construction electrocutions deaths occurred between 2011 and 2015. The most serious rate of life-threatening or fatal injury is highest for construction workers who are power-line installers. To be sure, power-line installers have a rate of nearly 30 deaths per 100,000 workers, “or approximately 40 times that of all construction occupations on average.”
Injuries often occur on construction sites when a worker is crushed by heavy equipment which strikes the worker such as with the bucket of a back hoe or a dump truck backing up without a spotter, or due to falling objects. Crush injuries annually account for about 5.5 percent of all construction accident deaths. In Albany, Syracuse or Rochester construction workers should know that they have additional protections against these unsafe conditions through Section 241 of New York Labor Law.
Motor Vehicle Collisions in Construction Areas
Motor vehicle collisions are also a frequent cause of construction site accidents. The New York Rules require that when workers are exposed to highway traffic, such as road crews, they must be provided protection from being hit by moving vehicles. This is done through adequate signage, flag persons and barricades. An experienced construction site accident lawyer knows each of the laws and rules that apply to construction accidents and how to effectively use them.
Contact a Rochester Construction Site Accident Lawyer
If you were injured in a construction site accident, or if you lost a loved one in a deadly construction accident, you may be able to seek compensation through the New York Safe Place to Work Laws. One of the experienced Albany, Syracuse or Rochester construction accident attorneys at our firm can speak with you about your options. At Powers & Santola, LLP, we are committed to representing injured construction workers and their family members after a serious accident. Contact us today to learn more about the services we provide to individuals and families in upstate New York.