The Southern Tier Builders Association recently met at Moonbrook Country Club and discussed a topic which is troubling builders across the state: the New York Scaffold Law.
According to www.scaffoldlaw.org, the New York Scaffold Law, "was first enacted in 1885, long before the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Workers' Compensation. Under the Scaffold Law, contractors, employers and property owners are held absolutely liable for elevation-related injuries. This means that in a lawsuit, the contractor, employer, or property owner is automatically fully at fault, even if the worker was grossly negligent."
The keynote speaker for the event, Tom Stebbins, addressed the injustice he and many state builders perceive with the Scaffold Law: That it allows defendants virtually no opportunity to defend themselves in court.
Tom Stebbins addresses the injustice he and many state builders perceive with the Scaffold Law — that it allows defendants virtually no opportunity to defend themselves in court — at the Southern Tier Builders Association meeting held recently at Moonbrook Country Club.
P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb
Stebbins began his diatribe against the Scaffold Law by offering context as to how it has personally affected him.
"I was working on developing a wind farm in Arkwright, and I needed to build a meteorological tower," said Stebbins. "I needed a local person to cut down some trees for me (to build the tower). I wanted a local person to do this job, and I found a guy who was a chainsaw and a truck kind of guy, which is what I wanted. When I went back to my company, they told me that in New York, that worker needs $1 million of liability insurance. Everywhere else I've worked, I've needed about $100,000 of liability insurance. When we need 10 times more insurance than any other state, I know something is wrong. ... I had to bring in a firm from Buffalo to cut a couple of trees down. I've learned that the Scaffold Law is the primary driver why companies are requiring (unnecessary) insurance to simply cut down a tree."
According to Stubbens, New York is the only state left that still enforces the Scaffold Law; Illinois, being the second to last state, overturned its Scaffold Law in 1995.
Stubbens continued by explaining how builders are not the only ones suffering from the Scaffold Law, but how he believes that everyone suffers, since settlements resulting from the law drive up the cost of insurance for everyone.
"We're all paying for this, in our taxes, in our schools and in almost everything we do," said Stubbens. "Illinois was the last state to have an absolute liability standard for construction related injuries. When that went away, we saw an increase in construction jobs and a decrease in fatalities. People often wonder how that happens ... it turns out when you make people more responsible for their injuries, they act more responsibly. The data really bears that out."
By not allowing New York state contractors to defend themselves in court, Stubbens explained that people are winning settlements that common sense argues they should not win. In one case, a woman used the wrong part of the ladder, Stubbens said.
"She used the top of the ladder as the base, and she slipped and hurt herself," Stubbens said. "She sued the state, and the state is now responsible for her injuries even though she testified that she used the wrong end of the ladder. These sort of cases are happening all the time."
Stubbens urged those in attendance to join in getting the Scaffold Law reformed, as New York is the final state to uphold the 128-year-old law.
"I think we're finally getting more support for this than we ever have before," said Stubbens. "We have insurance companies that are leaving New York for the sole purpose that this state has the Scaffold Law. If insurance companies were making money, they would be here, and they're not. It shows how much this law needs to be reformed."