N.Y. Assembly Committee Forced to Vote on ‘Scaffold Law’ Reform Sought by Employers and Insurers

Chances there will be a vote on a key New York tort reform bill have improved after the Democratic sponsor of the bill has made a procedural move that will prompt the Assembly Labor Committee to consider his bill to reform the state’s notorious “Scaffold Law.”

Assemblyman Joseph Morelle (D-Rochester) asked the Labor Committee to consider his bill, a move that essentially forces the committee to vote on it before the end of the legislative session.

The chair of the Assembly Labor Committee, Susan John (D-Rochester), asked Morelle to withdraw his motion, but he declined, Assemblyman Morelle told the New York Sun.

He told the Sun he was forcing the vote “because that’s what you get elected to do.” He added: “I think it’s important enough. . . . In the Rochester area in particular, literally hundreds of jobs are at risk.”

Employers and the insurance industry back the bill, which is sponsored in the Senate by Senator Dale Volker (D-Erie County).

The bill would reform sections 240 and 241 of the state’s Labor Law, the notorious “Scaffold Law” This law makes owners, contractors, and subcontractors absolutely liable for worksite injuries regardless of worksite safety programs, employee negligence, or any other factors in the injury. The law has been interpreted to pertain to any “gravity-related” worksite injury. No other state imposes such an absolute-liability standard in these cases.

Morelle’s bill (A.7213/S.1710) would change the absolute liability standard to one of contributory negligence for employers that provide appropriate safety training and equipment.

The Business Council and its affiliate, the Construction Industry Council, have long sought such a reform.

“This bill would introduce a simple element of fairness into these cases: It would permit defendants to defend themselves,” said Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh.

Contractors and insurers say the law in the last five years has driven insurances costs up, in some cases by a factor of 10. In fact, some contractors, especially upstate, have reported being unable to get general liability insurance at any cost because of this law, Walsh added.