The laws governing construction accidents in New York are unique. In fact, unlike many other states, the laws here are overwhelmingly favorable to the safety of the construction worker – especially when it comes to accidents involving falls. In New York, if a construction worker falls from a ladder or scaffold, the owner of the site, as well as any of the owner’s general contractors, or agents, are 100% responsible for the accident, even if they were not there when it happened, and even if the worker’s own negligence was one of the causes of the fall. There are of course exceptions for 1-2 family home owners, as well as an exception if the fall is only caused by the worker’s own negligence (which is rather difficult to prove). Even as an attorney who represents the injured, I have to admit that on the surface this seems a little one-sided. But let’s take a quick, closer examination of what I believe to be behind this – the “why”.
Many of the workers that build this State do not speak English, and might be in this country illegally. Further, they probably do not belong to unions, and they most likely have no health insurance. Knowing this, the small sub-contractors that hire them require the workers to work up to ten straight hours per day, for a low wage paid in cash (so payroll taxes and worker’s compensation can be avoided). Further, they ask the workers to do the most dangerous work, on faulty ladders and scaffolds, with little or no safety gear to protect them from falling. The result is what you would expect – accidents happen. And when a worker falls a long distance onto a hard floor or ground, the injuries are almost always severe – preventing the worker from doing the only thing he has ever done, or knows how to do to provide for his family – construction work.
This scenario happens every single day, especially in New York City. It remains an unfortunate consequence of the building and maintenance of our great City buildings and structures.
So think about it – Who is in the best position to prevent these occurrences by enforcing rigid safety rules regarding equipment and accident prevention? Is it the worker himself, or the small, un-safe sub-contractor who hired him? Or is it the general contractor and land owner who: (1) can hire whichever, qualified sub-contractors they want; (2) are charged with inspecting and managing their entire worksite on a daily basis anyway; and (3) have all the means and methods to facilitate a safe worksite at their disposal? Well, the New York State Legislature thinks it’s the owners and general contractors who should be primarily responsible, and I for one agree with them. And for anyone who argues that these safety laws make the price of doing construction work in New York too high, I say just take a look around. You can’t walk a single block in midtown Manhattan without seeing and hearing a construction project. I think the owners and general contractors are doing just fine.
So next time you walk by a well run NYS work site, and you see sturdy ladders and scaffolds, safety netting, and all the workers wearing safety harnesses and hard hats, you can know that it is your government, and the injury attorneys, that are helping make that possible, and helping each worker come home each night, safe and sound.
If you or a friend or relative were hurt in a construction accident, please reach out to us. (212) 532-0532. We can help.