One of the most common construction site injuries is falls. Workers can experience severe injury from a variety of sources, typically involving scaffolding, ladders, or various other equipment carrying a risk of gravity-induced injury explains one of the NYC construction accident lawyers at the F&A injury law firm in Manhattan. In cases of particularly severe falls, permanent impairment, disability, or even death may result.
However, even comparatively small falls can result in substantial claims for damages; in 2016, for example, one worker suffered serious injury after falling only 12 inches through a small platform opening. Both the trial judge and subsequent Appellate Court concluded that, despite the relatively short length of the fall, the injured worker was entitled to compensation pursuant to New York Labor Law § 240 (Brown v 44 St. Dev., LLC).
For construction workers operating within New York, it is vital for employers, employees, and contractors alike to be aware of the “Scaffold Law,” governed by New York Labor Law § 240. In many cases, even minor falls result in actionable claims for injured workers.
The Scaffold Law
New York Labor Law § 240 was enacted to protect workers from injuries due to both personal falls (for example, a fall from a ladder or scaffolding) and injury from falling objects). In the former case, workers are most often injured when the correct safety equipment, such as a harness or tether, is not used. In the case of falling objects, however, actionable injuries can result from a wide variety of sources; debris from demolition, unsecured equipment falling due to high winds, dropped hand tools, or improperly secured heavy equipment are just a few examples of the dangerous conditions construction professionals may encounter.
§ 240 requires owners, contractors, and employers to provide proper protective equipment to professionals working in elevated conditions, as well as ensure that workers have been properly educated in the use of the equipment. However, even a proven track record of safety does not prevent an injured worker from pursuing compensation; any defendant regulated under § 240 can be found liable in the event a worker is injured.
New York’s labor code imposes what we call “Absolute Liability” on employers, property owners, or contractors who fail to maintain a safe work environment for professional in elevated conditions. Sometimes also called “Strict Liability,” New York is one of the only states to grant this protection to construction professionals. Because the vast majority of construction site injuries are due to improper working conditions, construction workers must be aware of their employer’s responsibility to maintain a safe workspace; in cases where employers fail to provide a safe work site per New York Labor Law, it is irrelevant whether the injured worker contributed to the injury through negligence, carelessness, or mistake.
Additionally, this means that it is difficult for defendants to “shift the blame” onto the injured worker. In New York, plaintiffs who qualify under the protections of these regulations often win their case, and are frequently entitled to substantial compensation due to the broad protections granted to laborers under the law. In 2015, for example, a Manhattan jury awarded $96 million to two families after a wrongful death claim due to a crane collapse; in 2014, a siding installer received over $60 million in damages after sustaining a fall from a metal roof.
Labor Law § 241
A related section, New York Labor Law § 241, likewise aims to protect workers from injuries, even if such injuries occur at the ground level of the work site. Similar to § 240, this section regulates how a construction site must be arranged, secured, and operated in order to establish a safe workplace for laborers. While this section is far broader than New York’s Scaffold Law, it is also an important protection for workers suffering injuries due to unsafe work site conditions. New York requires owners, contractors, and employers to exercise reasonable care to protect workers; when a worker is injured as a result of an unsafe work site, it is highly likely they will be entitled to compensation. Unlike Section § 240, however, defendants may invoke “Contributory Negligence” as a defense; that is, reckless or unsafe conduct on the part of the injured worker that may have contributed to the injury.
In either case, in New York State, injured workers can also typically obtain compensation from the owners of the property where the work site is established, even if the worker is employed or contracted by a separate company or entity. An injured worker typically may, for example, collect workman’s compensation from their employer, while also pursuing a claim for damages against the owner of the work site.
Remember, filing a claim does not prevent you from collecting workman’s compensation. However, while workman’s compensation is a helpful resource for injured construction professionals, in many cases, it is not a sufficient replacement for the civil protections granted to you under New York Labor Laws.
Eligibility Under Labor Law § 240
While the absolute liability imposed on potential defendants under § 240 makes this a powerful resource for workers injured under elevated working conditions, several key points must be met in order for the plaintiff to successfully invoke the law. While New York Courts typically interpret this regulation broadly in favor of plaintiffs, in some cases, Labor Law § 240 may not be applicable.
Firstly, the law typically does not apply to homeowners; that is, gravity injuries sustained on a work site where the property owner is a single or two-family homeowner usually cannot be claimed against the owner. In cases where the homeowner directly controls the work (i.e. directs the work performed by the plaintiff), however, Labor Law § 240 may apply. For example, a homeowner who directly hires laborers for a renovation project, and subsequently supervises the work performed by the laborers, is likely to be held absolutely liable under Labor Law § 240.
In cases where the property owner has hired the services of a separate entity to direct the work, such as a construction company or contracting agency, injured workers typically may not make a claim against the owner of the property; in these cases, compensation must be pursued against the plaintiff’s employer or contractor supervising the work site. Labor Law § 240 is, however, broadly applicable to owners of multifamily homes (3 or more family unit structures), apartments, condominiums, and commercial structures.
Note also that the work performed that resulted in the injury must have occurred on a structural job site; for example, injuries sustained on a non-structural job site, such as trimming trees, are likely not applicable to Labor Law § 240. Labor Law § 240 does, however, apply to virtually any structure-related construction work, such as new building construction, demolition, renovation, painting, roofing, siding, or excavation. Decorative or routine labor, on the other hand, typically do not qualify. Cleaning services, inspections, ordinary HVAC maintenance, or drapery, for example, typically do not meet the standard of structure-related construction labor.
Keeping Workers Safe
Construction professionals can substantially reduce the risk of injury to workers by maintaining a safe work site. Equipment that presents the user with a high risk of fall, such as ladders or scaffolding, should be in good condition, periodically inspected, and properly constructed to accommodate a wide variety of uses and user body types. Workers should be adequately informed of the risks of using equipment improperly, and demonstrate proper training before using potentially dangerous equipment.
A conscientious employer or contractor should take advantage of training resources for professionals using such equipment, devise a safety plan properly suited to the work site, and utilize protective equipment such as harnesses or netting to minimize hazards.
Injured workers are typically entitled to compensation for a wide variety of damages resulting from work site injury, including medical treatments, rehabilitation, therapy, loss of ability to work, disfigurement or dismemberment, pain and suffering, or caregiving services following disability. Construction site injuries can be debilitating or even fatal; owners, employers, and contractors must do their part to promote a safe work environment for our construction professionals.
A construction site injury can result in more than just medical bills: legal bills, disability, impaired ability to work, or navigating the complex insurance claims process are often impossible tasks in the wake of an injury. In most cases, property owners, employers, or companies that may be liable for your injuries already have teams of attorneys ready to protect them. This is why an injured worker needs an advocate who will fight for their rights guaranteed under New York’s labor laws. It is essential to find an attorney experienced in construction site injury, dedicated to ensuring you are compensated for injuries sustained, and who will put your case first.
If you’ve been injured in a construction accident, you are entitled to protection under the law. Our team of professionals is here to make sure you receive it.