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July 30th, 2012

Taxpayers Bear Huge Costs Imposed by NY’s Antiquated ‘Scaffold Law’

When New York Daily News columnist Bill Hammond earlier this month cited insurance data that suggest taxpayers will pay $100 million more to renovate the aging Tappan Zee Bridge than they’d otherwise have to were it not for the shrinking Empire State’s so-called “scaffold law,” the labor unions and trial lawyers let him have it.

But Hammond is no one to be bullied and, to his credit, struck back with last Friday’s column.

“[Y]ou don’t have to take my word — or the construction industry’s word — on how this law really works,” he wrote.

“Listen instead to the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court and the last word on interpreting state laws:

“The scaffold law ‘imposes liability even on contractors and [property] owners who had nothing to do with the plaintiff’s accident,’ Judge Robert Smith wrote for a unanimous court this past February. ‘And where a violation of the statute has caused injury, any fault by the plaintiff contributing to that injury is irrelevant.’

“Or listen to Rochester Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, a Democrat who has been fighting valiantly to reform the law for years.  . . . What is true, Morelle explained, is that employers and owners can be held 100% liable for an injury, even if that injury was 99% the worker’s fault.”

In his earlier column, Hammond called the scaffold law a “19th century throwback” that is “unique to New York” in that it predates workmen’s compensation and unemployment insurance.  He explained that it allows workers to “sue and collect damages even if they ignored their employers’ safety rules or were drunk or stoned on the job.  . . . This is the big reason why, according to industry data, construction liability insurance costs an average of $750 per $1,000 of payroll in the New York City area — compared with just $150 in Chicago .”

Though Gov. Andrew Cuomo talks a good tort reform game, don’t expect him to voice support for Assemblyman Morelle’s effort to reform the antiquated scaffold law.  Cuomo won’t dare cross Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the other parasitic personal injury lawyers who dominate the legislature in Albany, none of whom wants to kill this golden goose of liability.  Meanwhile, New York taxpayers keep getting gouged while voting for the same shysters election after election.

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